Defending Sexual Assault Cases and #METOO: What to Expect

In our country, anyone accused of a crime, including sexual assault, is given the benefit of the doubt. That means that, in the eyes of the law, you are innocent until proven guilty. But in light of the burgeoning #METOO movement, the public is often quicker to judge a defendant in a sexual assault case than ever before. What, then, does this mean for you and your defense?

While it has always been essential for anyone accused of a sexual assault to be represented by a criminal defense attorney, since the emergence of the #METOO movement, proper representation has become all the more necessary. 

Here, we break down the components of a sexual assault charge, what (if anything) has changed since the rise of #METOO, and how a criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the often bumpy terrain of a sexual assault defense.

What Is a Sexual Assault?

North Carolina has two general categories that encompass sexual assault – sexual offense and rape. Broadly speaking, a sexual offense in North Carolina occurs when a person subjects a victim to unwanted and offensive sexual acts (other than vaginal intercourse), including oral sex or anal intercourse. Rape is any unwanted vaginal penetration.

A conviction for any felony sexual assault in North Carolina will usually result in a lengthy prison sentence. Not only that, a convicted sex offender will have to register as such and will likely face difficulty in the future obtaining jobs, housing, loans, and more. 

Has Anything Changed Since #METOO?

From changes in corporate offices to stricter laws to more civil lawsuits, the #METOO movement has indeed transformed the way we view sexual assault. Possibly the most noticeable change that the movement has brought to light has been the public’s opinion on those accused of sexual harassment and assault. With sexual assault in the news and at the forefront of so many minds, many are quicker now to judge those accused of a crime as guilty.

This is where a criminal defense attorney comes in. A good attorney will do what he or she should have been doing all along: offering the accused the vigorous defense to which he or she is entitled under the law. 

When it comes to case strategy, this boils down to a few factors: 

  • Jury selection: It has become all the more important to carefully select a jury that will be impartial. Defense attorneys must work harder during jury selection to find those who, even in light of the #METOO movement, will have an open mind and not rush to judge a defendant just because he was accused of a sexual offense. 
  • Prior allegations: A judge will not always admit prior similar allegations against a defendant in a sexual offense case. However, in some circumstances, it appears that judges may be more likely than before to admit these prior acts (sometimes called “Me Too evidence”) at trial. A good defense lawyer will fight vigorously on behalf of his or her clients to ensure that any such evidence is excluded from trial on the basis, for example, that it is not relevant to the current charges.

While the #METOO movement has undoubtedly complicated matters and, in some cases, made it more difficult for defendants in a sexual assault case, the Cotten Firm remains committed to clients and will fight to defend those accused of a sexual offense in North Carolina. Our passion for upholding and staunchly protecting our clients’ rights – and our commitment to doing what we can to help them achieve their goals – is what drives us. It’s also why our clients have come to trust and respect us. 

Reach out to us to learn more or to see how we can help.