Sex Crime

Accusations of Sexual Offenses In Pennsylvania

Sex Offender
Some of the most serious crimes that anyone can be charged with come under Title 31 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code — Sexual Offenses.

Under the guise of approximately eight different sub-statutes, Pennsylvania punishes people who engage in various types of sexual conduct. Although every defendant is innocent until proven guilty at a trial, the reality is that the stigma of a sexual offense always leans against the defendant. The stain of a sexual offense charge often forces defendants to engage an active defense against a sexual offense charge, even though they have no burden to do so.

In addition, the criminal effects of a conviction always have lifetime consequences (especially Megan’s Law requirements). It is for these reasons that anyone charged with a sexual offense should take his or her case very seriously.

What Charges Can Be Brought Against Me?

Considering the circumstances, the ages and employment of the individuals involved, the conduct alleged, and the date an offense allegedly occurred, a defendant who is accused of sexual misconduct may be charged with one or more of the following offenses:

Nature of Sexual Offense Charges in Pennsylvania

The nature of sexual offense charges in Pennsylvania will depend on a number of factors, including:

Age: Age is an important factor in chargeability and defense. For most sexual offense statutes, age makes a difference when an alleged victim is less than 16 years old, when a defendant is four (4) years or more older. Mistake of age for complainants under 14 years old is not a defense; however, it can become a defense in cases involving complainants older than 14.

Strict Liability: Knowledge of a victim’s age is irrelevant in some situations. Anyone accused of any type of sexual conduct with a complainant who is actually less than 13 years old is “strictly liable” for the offense. There is no defense that the defendant thought the victim was 15, 16 or even 17 years old. In addition, sexual intercourse between an individual under 16 years old and a defendant who is 4 years or more older is strictly criminally liable under Pennsylvania statutes.

Sex Doesn’t Just Mean “Sex”: Sexual intercourse is not the only sexual activity that is punishable under the law. A few Pennsylvania statutes punish a broad range of sexual activity, including forms of penetration, however slight. Of course, even if no contact occurs, a defendant can always be prosecuted for criminal attempt or conspiracy to engage in a sexual offense.

Considerations for Prosecutions of Sexual Offenses in Pennsylvania

Lengthy Statute of Limitations: Most prosecutions must commence within 12 years of the alleged crime. Where a victim is under 18 years old, prosecution must commence within 12 years after the victim turns 18 years old or by the date the minor victim reaches 50 years old. Old, forgotten, and even sealed accusations nevertheless have a way of coming back to prosecute unsuspecting defendants (as in the Bill Cosby case).

Victim’s Sexual History: Evidence of a complainant’s past sexual history or reputation is not admissible in a sexual offense case. Often called “rape shield laws,” the legislative purpose is to protect complainants from coming forward out of fear of sexual judgment. Evidence of past sexual conduct is admissible at trial, however, only where the complainant’s consent with the defendant is an issue and only after a hearing on the matter.

Are There Possible Defenses to Charges for Sexual Offenses?

Even if consent is not an issue (such as being charged with statutory sexual assault), other defenses may be available. A defendant has a right to present an alibi to all charges alleged, and has a right to cross-examine a complainant and any other witnesses. If DNA evidence exists, there must be a proper chain of custody before such evidence is admissible at trial. With the assistance of counsel, you may be able to present these and other powerful defenses.

What are the Consequences of a Sexual Offense Conviction?

The consequences of a criminal conviction for any type of sexual misconduct are severe. Aside from the effects of a felony conviction, most defendants must register on the Sexual Offender Registration system for a period of 15 years, 25 years, or for life.

As a registered sexual offender, a defendant’s movements are tracked every year and home and work addresses, vehicle information, criminal information, picture and physical description are publicly available for the world to see.

A conviction for sexual misconduct has other implications. A convicted individual may not sponsor relatives, even spouses, for certain family-based immigration petitions. Convicted individuals may also be barred from: adopting or taking custody of minor relatives, obtaining teaching and other occupational licenses, operating certain child-based businesses, attending school events, rallies, PTO meetings, volunteering and even being on or near school property.

When a defendant is convicted of a sexual offense, the reality is that the whole family feels the effects.

Finding an Attorney for Sexually Motivated Crimes in Pennsylvania

Even if you are merely accused of a sexual offense — but not charged — it is most important to invoke your right to remain silent.

Do not speak to the police, the alleged victim or any family members about the incident. Do not agree to provide any DNA. It is also important not to submit to any type of junk science including polygraph tests.

Until you retain an attorney, police may attempt to get a hold of you any way possible. Nothing prevents them from calling your cell phone, contacting you through Facebook and even showing up to your home or school for questioning. Once you retain an attorney, police must cease all attempts to contact you directly.

If you or a loved one find yourselves in a situation where serious sexual accusations are made — even falsely — you should contact an attorney immediately.

The attorneys at Skinner Law Firm represent clients for a variety of allegations involving sexually motivated crimes in Chester County, and the surrounding areas of Delaware County and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. With offices conveniently located in West Chester in Chester County and Media in Delaware County, our attorneys are ready to help you fight these serious charges. 

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Sexual Offender Registration Requirements Under Recently Expanded Meghan’s Law

Crimes

In 2006, President Bush signed into law the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. As an update to “Meghan’s laws,” the Act created a national sex offender registry and greatly expanded the government’s and public’s ability to monitor sex offenders. The most restrictive part of the law is commonly known as SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act). Under SORNA, a state must implement a program in which defendants convicted of certain offenses must register with the database for a certain period of years.

As of 2012, Pennsylvania has complied with these stringent SORNA requirements. But what does it really mean to be a sex offender under this new law? More specifically, what are the consequences of being convicted of a SORNA offense? Below is an outline of the law’s requirements.

CRIMES

Under the law, the term sex offender is actually broader than its common meaning. Anyone convicted of a sex-related offense such as rape, sexual assault, incest or involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, must register under SORNA. In addition, the law covers many crimes against children, such as child pornography, luring a child into a vehicle, corruption of minors (certain sections of the statute) and child prostitution/exploitation.

However, violent offenses are not the only crimes covered by SORNA. A defendant convicted of unlawfully restraining, kidnaping, falsely imprisoning or trafficking a minor must register. A defendant convicted of invasion of privacy, video voyeurism or certain online offenses must also register. In addition, institutional sexual assault includes not only the commonly-cited student/teacher relationship, but also extends to guards/inmates, youth counselors/juveniles, and sexual conduct within mental health facilities. These defendants must also register under SORNA.

REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS

Depending on the specific statute and prior criminal history, a defendant must register for a certain period of time. Offenders are classified as either Tier I offenders (15 year registration – must register and be photographed once a year), Tier II offenders (25 year registration – must register and be photographed twice a year), or Tier III offenders (lifetime registration – must register and be photographed every 3 months).

All offenders must register in each state he or she resides, works or goes to school. If an offender does not have a personal residence or is in transient, he or she must register once a month and provide a description of where he or she frequents. When registering, defendants must have new photographs taken and supply all biographic information, including telephone numbers, email accounts, social security number, social media accounts, licenses, passports, DNA, fingerprints and any changes in the above. If an offender wishes to travel outside the United States, he or she must notify the registrant.  All this must be done in person and within a specific period of time, although there are mailing exceptions. Natural disasters and personal problems do not allow a sexual offender to miss a deadline to register. A violation or misrepresentation of the registration or photograph requirements is a felony, punishable by mandatory jail time.

Under SORNA, the following information is publicly available online: an offender’s name, photograph, primary address, employment address, date of birth, physical description including tattoos and scars, vehicle information including make, model and license plate number, offense information, and compliance status. The public can access this information for as long as an offender’s registration period remains.

SEXUALLY VIOLENT PREDATORS

In very serious circumstances, an offender may be deemed a Sexually Violent Predator (SVP). After an evaluation by the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB), a court may find an offender is likely to engage in predatory behavior. SOAB allows for the monitoring and community notification of these potentially dangerous individuals. When an SVP moves to a new residence or is released from prison, written notice must be provided to neighbors, HOA boards, schools, day care centers, colleges and universities, and CYS departments within a certain radius of his or her residence. The notice includes a photograph of the offender.

 

As one can see from above, sexual and child offenses are serious crimes. If you have been charged with a SORNA offense, you will likely have to register as a sex offender even if the offense did not involve sex. Be sure to contact a qualified attorney regarding the specifics of your case.

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Child pornography charges carry great stigma, but can aim at the wrong person

Image of human hands doing some computer work

National news has turned its attention to Subway pitchman Jared Fogle, whose home was raided this week in a child pornography investigation. Fogle was the subject of much shaming and his employer severed its relationship with him.

Fogle was not charged, and the investigation was actually aimed at an employee. Child pornography investigations can be aggressive and the results of even an accusation can be devastating. However, they can be aimed at the wrong person. Unlike in the court of public opinion, the police and prosecutors must prove all elements of their case beyond reasonable doubt.

What is considered illegal?

Laws prohibiting child pornography can be found under state law at 18 Penn. Cons. Stat. § 6312, titled “Sexual Abuse of Children.” The law prohibits any person from intentionally viewing or knowingly possessing material, including digital photos and videos, that depict a child younger than 18 engaged in a sexual act or simulating a sexual act.

It is also illegal to produce such material and to disseminate it. Disseminating could be as simple as forwarding an email or text message.

What is the punishment for these crimes?

Producing child pornography is a second degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Disseminating, intentionally viewing or knowingly possessing child pornography is a third degree felony for a first offense, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. A second or subsequent offense is a second degree felony.

At a minimum, a person also must register as a sex offender for 15 years if convicted of possessing child pornography or for 25 years if convicted of producing or disseminating it.

What are possible defense if I am facing child pornography charges?

A critical part of the law is the state of mind, called the mens rea. Prosecutors must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant viewed the material intentionally or knew they possessed material with young people engaged in sexual acts.

The mens rea often comes into play because, especially in an era where most prohibited material is digital, circumstances can easily arise where a person does not know he or she possesses the material. For instance, it could be attached to an email that the accused downloaded onto his or her computer without knowing. A person who trafficks in child pornography could hack into a person’s server or cloud to store files there for distribution, unbeknownst to the owner.

It’s important to keep in mind that the defense does not have to prove these scenarios occurred. It is the prosecutor’s job to prove they did not occur. If any reasonable doubt exists that any of these circumstances existed, though, the accused’s child pornography defense lawyer could raise the possibility to show the jury the reasonable doubt that exists.

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When is Registration as a Sex Offender Required?

When a person is convicted of a sexually based offense, he or she could face severe and long-term consequences, including being required to register as a sex offender. This could mean difficulty finding a job, restrictions on housing and a reputation as a potentially dangerous person.

If a Pennsylvania resident has been convicted of one or more Tier I, II or III offenses, he or she may be required to register as a sex offender in the state. Additionally, if a person previously convicted of one or more offenses works in the state, but resides in another, or attends a university in the state, he or she could be required to register in Pennsylvania.

Certain out-of-state offenders and some juveniles adjudicated of specific crimes also are subject to the registration requirements of Megan’s Law, a state law designed to protect the public from sexual offenders.

In Pennsylvania, there are several offenses that, if convicted, a person could be required to register. The offenses are categorized by tiers based on the severity of the crime. The tiers designate the appropriate penalties, including the length of time in which a person must be on the registry.

Those convicted of Tier I offenses in Pennsylvania are required to register for 15 years. Some of these could include certain offenses relating to the sexual exploitation of minors, offenses relating to possession of child pornography, indecent assault and sexual abuse of children.

A Tier II conviction in Pennsylvania could mean being placed on the state’s sex offender registry for 25 years. Offenses such as trafficking in individuals, statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor and sexual exploitation of children are considered Tier II offenses.

If a person is convicted of a Tier III offense, he or she could be forced to register as a sex offender for life. These offenses often are considered some of the harshest. These offenses could include kidnapping, rape, incest, sexual abuse, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual assault and statutory sexual assault.

A juvenile could be required to register if he or she was adjudicated of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault or any attempt, conspiracy or solicitation of the offenses. A child in Tier III previously was required to register for life, but the state Supreme Court ruled last month the requirement was unconstitutional.

Sexual offenders are required to register at the time of sentencing. Out-of-state offenders who are subject to registration must report to an approved Registration Site and register within three business days of establishing a residence, becoming employed or attending school in the state.

Additionally, offenders are required to appear in-person throughout the year at an approved registration and verification site according to their assigned Tier classification. Appearances could include:

  • Tier I offenders — Annually
  • Tier II offenders — Twice a year
  • Tier III offenders —Four times a year
  • Transient offenders —Monthly
  • Juvenile offenders — Four times a year

All sexual offenders are required to report any changes, such as a change in residence, name or employment, within three business days. Failing to do so could mean additional penalties. Fighting a conviction for a sexual offense is critical. An attorney at Skinner Law Firm can help you through the process. Call (267) 388-3476 for a free consultation.

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New Sexual Offense Requirements


Crimes of a sexual nature will always be considered a controversial issue. As a political hot-button topic for the past decade in particular, many states have been revising their rules in order to accommodate the increasingly negative public opinion on the subject. Pennsylvania has recently entered the fray by enacting Senate Bill 1183, expanding registration rules for convicted sex offenders.

Following the precedent set by the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), the state has expanded its registration requirements for those found guilty of sexual offenses in accordance with the national guidelines. These new prerequisites to the already strict Pennsylvania sex crime laws take effect on December 20, 2012.

The new piece of legislation replaces the present “Megan’s Law” system. According to the law, the most serious sex offenders in the state must report their addresses every three months to both the parole and probation departments of Pennsylvania law enforcement. Those convicted of lesser offenses will be required to report their whereabouts every six months to a year, depending on their specific crimes.

One of the primary additions to reporting guidelines is the inclusion of digital and internet profiles. In addition to the basic requirements like name, address, employer and driver’s license information, offenders will need to supply the state with usernames for any social media websites that they use, as well as email and internet service provider addresses.

A decidedly controversial aspect of the new provision is the retroactive nature of the reporting requirements. Simply put, when the provision takes effect, a convict’s “new” registration period will be determined by the “new” time-frames for sexually violent offenses. This means that, in certain cases, even if the individual has completed seven of ten years, his or her registration period will increase to 15, 25, or life.

Some of the primary sexual offenses that will be included in these new requirements include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Statutory Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Conduct with a Minor
  • Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse
  • Indecent Assault
  • Aggravated Indecent Assault
  • Institutional Sexual Assault
  • Indecent Exposure

This presents many issues to those who have paid their debt to society and are now continually paying for the mistakes they made in the past. Not only will this bring additional pressure to those convicted, it could also end up costing the state and the taxpayers a great deal of money.

This puts the states in a difficult position, because, under the federal law, they will lose 10% of their funding if they do not comply. Some states, like Texas and Ohio, have refused to pass their own versions of this bill, for two stated reasons: First, that the cost to implement the law would greatly exceed the loss in funding, and, second, that the Act takes a “one-size-fits-all” approach for all states, despite the many differences that exist between state law.

These expanded requirements will disproportionately affect the many Pennsylvania residents convicted of lesser sexual crimes. This is why it is so important to keep from being forced to deal with this difficult situation in the first place by working with a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who has experience in this volatile and complicated area of law.

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Sandusky Scandal Incites Pennsylvania Sex Crime Law Reform

The recent scandal behind Pen State’s former football coach, Jerry Sandusky, receiving 40 criminal counts of sexual molestation and the subsequent firing of his colleague, Joe Paterno, by the university’s Board of Trustees, has stirred legislatures to push for policy reform surrounding sexual crimes and child abuse.

After the Sandusky arrest, criticism quickly turned to Joe Paterno for failing to disclose to local authorities that he knew about the reported child abuse by Sandusky. Instead, Paterno reportedly told persons in charge of the institution. While people may continue to scrutinize his choice of disclosure, Paterno has taken the steps to protect his legal rights by seeking counsel of a Pennsylvania sex crime defense attorney, even though he has not been charged with a crime. Former Penn State senior executive Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley, were both formally charged with failing to report alleged abuse and lying to the grand jury. All three men say they are innocent.

According to Pennsylvania law, the general rule relating to persons required to report suspected child abuse, in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of their profession, shall report or cause a report to be made to the Department of Public Welfare when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse. The law continues to specify specific requirements for staff members of public or private agencies, institutions and facilities.

Employees who are staff members of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency, and who, in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of their profession, come into contact with children shall immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or agency or the designated agent of the person in charge when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse. Upon notification by the employee, the person in charge or the designated agent shall assume the responsibility and have the legal obligation to report or cause a report to be made.

Each state has separate rules concerning child abuse and sexual misconduct with a minor. Currently Pennsylvania’s Right-To-Know Law requires Pen State and other state funded universities to report only certain financial aspects in order to receive funding by the state. Laws surrounding the accusations against the former Pen State employees have created many people to question the law’s functionality and the Sandusky case has created activists lobbying for a more uniformed law among the states, for public or private institution employees to take more responsibility for their actions, or lack thereof.

Pennsylvania lawmaker State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) introduced House Bill 1990, that would change state law so that people who witness child abuse are required to report the details to law enforcement, rather than a supervisor. Also, State Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D-York) introduced a second piece of legislation that would remove Right-To-Know Law public record exemptions Penn State and other state-related universities have used to conceal their spending behaviors.

So, what does it mean if these laws go into effect? Perhaps, more harsh punishments for those who suspect sexual crimes and child abuse but not reporting immediately to authorities, even at public and private institutions. Any criminal accusation has the potential to cause reputational damage and must be made with extreme caution. With high profile clients such as the ones in the Sandusky case, defamatory remarks without probable cause can invite counter suits and irreversible damage to a person’s career, family and lifestyle. New laws should be made on logical realizations aimed to entice the truth and with precaution to rights of both the vicims and those accused of committing the crime.

Child abuse and sexual crimes are serious offenses. If you have been accused of a sex crime in Pennsylvania, your best defense is an early one. Just as Paterno retained an attorney due to the threat and/or anticipation of a criminal charge, it’s important to take a proactive approach when creating a defense that will protect your rights. Even if you have not been formally charged but are anticipating an arrest in West Chester or one the the surrounding areas, a knowledgeable West Chester criminal defense attorney can help protect your rights and reputation. Call Skinner Law Firm if you would like to discuss your case during a free detailed consultation and are in West Chester, PA or surrounding areas.

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