Child Molestation Charges in Georgia
Child molestation charges are extremely serious. If you are falsely accused, we can help.
For over twenty years, our firm has successfully defended people who were facing child molestation charges, aggravated child molestation charges, and other sex offenses relating to children in Atlanta, Brunswick, Savannah, Macon, and all across the state of Georgia for well over 20 years.
Child molestation charges are obviously very serious, and can be one of the most difficult criminal cases to properly defend. Our firm has decades of experience in winning these cases at trial. We have developed an effective approach to these cases through the use of qualified experts and investigators, proven defense theories, and unmatched persistence to help our clients respond to false allegations of child molestation.
We have won “not guilty” verdicts for clients charged with child molestation and aggravated child molestation in courts across Georgia, and have convinced prosecutors to dismiss charges when the allegations were not supported by sufficient evidence.
In this video, Page Pate explains child molestation laws in Georgia and how our firm helps defend people accused of these crimes.
I’ve been representing people in child molestation cases for over 20 years now. These charges can be incredibly serious, and incredibly difficult to defend. Whenever I have a client that’s going through this process, they really wanna know what it all means, and their family will often have many questions about, you know, what do they have to prove to convict somebody of child molestation. It’s an incredibly serious offense. I mean, the penalties can go from 5 years mandatory in prison, all the way up to 25 years mandatory in prison, if it’s an aggravated child molestation case. So I thought it might be helpful just to talk about the basics of child molestation charges. What does the state have to prove to convict someone, and how does the investigation go, what happens during the investigation. Well, to begin with, when you are defining child molestation, you have to think about what the state has to prove. And like any other crime, there are elements that they have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt before they can convict someone. The first element is that there is an immoral or indecent act, and that is very vague, immoral or indecent. It can mean all kinds of different things, but it’s the first element in a child molestation case.
The second element is you have to have a child. And under Georgia law, that child has to be less than 16 years old. If the child is older than that, then there is no child molestation case. And next, the final element is that the state has to show that the person had an intent to arouse either their sexual desires, or the sexual desires of the child. These three things are what the state has to prove to bring a child molestation case. Immoral or indecent act, child less than 16 years of age, and the intent to arouse sexual desires. Now notice what’s missing from this list, the state does not have to prove that the person actually had sexual contact with the child. So most people think when you hear child molestation, that necessarily means they had sex with a child. Not so, all the state has to prove are these three elements.
Now what happens in a child molestation investigation? What happens during the course of the case? We’ve defended a lot of people who were falsely accused of these charges, and I think it’s important to walk through the steps that these cases normally take. Now, every case is a little bit different, but for the most part every investigation will start out with an initial complaint, and that’s basically the child going to an adult, it could be a parent, it could be a teacher, it could be anyone, and making an allegation that something happened to them. Law enforcement calls that an outcry, you know, they have finally disclosed something. It could have happened that day, but also it could have happened six, seven years ago. But the point is, the child makes an allegation. And these days, if that allegation is made to an adult, that adult’s going to report it to law enforcement, or that adult could be in trouble. There are laws now that mandate the reporting of any allegation made by a child that relates to molestation or child abuse. Once the complaint is made, they will sometimes suggest the child be taken for what is called a SANE exam, and that is not a sanity examination, it is stands for, “Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner,” exam. And that’s basically a physical examination conducted by a nurse who has special training in sexual assault cases. They are trying to determine if there is any physical evidence that the child has been sexually abused.
Now, not every case is going to have a SANE exam, because some allegations of child molestation won’t involve physical contact, or the physical contact will be so minimal that there is really no purpose in going through that exam, but some cases, you’ll have it. The next step is usually the forensic interview, and sometimes that forensic interview will actually occur before the SANE exam. It is important, it is critically important that that forensic interview be done shortly after the initial complaint. We have seen many cases when the interview is done days, weeks, or even months after the fact. When that is done, then the forensic interview is no longer that reliable. We have also seen many forensic interviews that were conducted by people who did not do it the right way. There are specific protocols that are in place as to how to handle these interviews, and it needs to be done by somebody who’s trained in interviewing children in sexual assault cases, and that’s what they mean when they say “forensic” interview. It is done by a professional. They are trying to determine in a very specific way if there is any credibility to these allegations.
The next step usually, issuing search warrants. The police are gonna go out to the incident where this allegedly happened, they are going to try to take pictures to see if, you know, the layout of the place is consistent with what the child said, they may also try to seize bedding material or any other evidence that they think may help bolster their case against the person being accused. Sometimes they will search computers, they will seize evidence like that to see if they can find any pictures of the child, or any child pornography, because all of that will certainly help them bring their case.
The next step is confronting the person accused. And I use these words specifically, they don’t come out to simply try to get the other person’s side of the story. If they ask somebody who’s been accused of child molestation to come down to the police station to talk to them, they are usually ready to file charges because they will have already heard the initial complaint, perhaps done a SANE exam, certainly have done some type of forensic interview, and may have even issued search warrants. So once they’ve gone through this process, law enforcement, they’ve made up their mind. They’re no longer trying to really find out what happened, they don’t want another side to the case. What they want is to try to trip the person up into making admissions, even if they didn’t commit this offense, they may give them some helpful information that can show they had contact with the child, which again bolsters the child’s allegations.
Finally, law enforcement has to make an ultimate decision about whether or not to file charges. Generally, that decision is going to be made by the prosecutor. Sometimes the investigator will make the decision, but usually, they’ll bring in the prosecutor. And in many cases, we found it very effective to set up a meeting with the prosecutor, talk to them about the whole case, not just what they are hearing from law enforcement, but there may have been witnesses that have not been interviewed by the police that we can talk to and present that evidence. We can try to show them why these allegations may be false, it may be a divorce situation, they’re fighting over custody, the child may have made similar false allegations before, all of that needs to be brought to the attention of the DA or the person making this decision, because it’s not gonna be brought to their attention by the police in many cases.
Now, how do you respond to these allegations? I mean, that’s what happens during the investigation, but at some point, you may have to actually respond, either in court or to the prosecutor about this type of charge. The first step is again, we’re gonna do our own investigation, we’re going to talk to everybody, even the people the police will not talk to. We’re going to look at all the evidence a second time, we’re going to be conducting that investigation, while the police are doing their investigation.
Sometimes, in the right case, we’ll consider suggesting a polygraph or a psychosexual examination. Now, law enforcement will many times offer the person the opportunity to take a polygraph as well. But if you take a polygraph that is done by the police, you’ll find that it is more of an interrogation tool than an actual determination of whether you’re being truthful or not. They want to trip you up. So, if we think a polygraph is going to be helpful, we arrange for a private, independent polygraph examination with a former FBI expert or some other qualified examiner, who will interview our client, make a determination, and if those results are helpful, we can produce them to the prosecutor or the agent.
Hiring the right experts is critical in any case, and it’s certainly important in a child molestation case. Remember I talked about the forensic interviews and how those can be done improperly. We have two very good independent forensic interview experts who look at those tapes, those video recordings of those interviews, to determine if it was done in the proper way. If it was not, then there is a lot of problems with the case, and the child’s credibility becomes questionable. They could have been led to say things during the interview, the interviewer could not have followed up to try to verify what the child was saying, the timing of the interview could be off, a lot of problems and a good expert will point those out.
In some cases, we also need medical experts, if there was a SANE exam, we may need a pediatrician to look at the records to see if there is any evidence to support what the child is saying. If they seized computer evidence, sometimes we’ll have a computer forensics expert involved in the case to look at that as well.
And finally, of course, we want to argue for a dismissal. If we’ve done our own investigation, we’ve considered polygraphs, we have good experts, I can go to the DA’s office and I can explain to them why these allegations are false, why this is a case they do not wanna pursue because if they do, we’re gonna win it at trial. And a lot of people’s lives will be damaged and permanently harmed during that process. But if you’re charged, if they pursue the case, just because the child said this happened, and that does happen in many instances. I mean, a prosecutor sometimes would rather lose the case at trial than turn around and tell a child’s family they are not gonna pursue it. So you may be presented with the opportunity to decide if you wanna enter a guilty plea or you actually wanna go to trial. And that’s of course a decision that has to be made in each individual case, after consulting with your lawyer.
But I do know that the results that we’ve been able to obtain in these cases have only been possible because we prepare every single one of these cases like we are going to trial. So when a prosecutor dismisses the case a week before trial, it’s not because they decided this is the right thing to do, or they just wanna be nice. It’s because they know that if they go to trial, we’ve done all the things we need to do, and we’re prepared to win.
So if you are going through a case like this, or you know someone who is, you certainly need a good lawyer, someone who is experienced in this particular type of case. It’s very unique, it can more difficult than a murder case. We’ve handled many of them successful over the past 20 years, so if you need any help, feel free to give us a call, and we’ll do our best to help you.
What is Child Molestation?
Under Georgia law, child molestation is when a person does any “indecent or immoral act” to, with, or in the presence of a child under the age of 16 with the intent to satisfy the sexual desires of the child or the offender. A person does not have to actually have sexual intercourse with a child to commit the offense of child molestation. Indeed, almost any behavior that is sexual can result in child molestation charges if the person is engaging in the behavior around a child.
A person convicted of child molestation for the first time will receive a prison sentence of at least 5 years and up to 20 years. The mandatory minimum sentence is doubled to 10 years if it is the person’s second conviction for this offense. Of course, the person will also be required to register as a sex offender.
What is Aggravated Child Molestation?
Aggravated child molestation is the same thing as child molestation, plus one of two additional elements. The “immoral or indecent act” must either physically injure the child or involve some form of sodomy (oral or anal sex).
Strangely, Georgia law provides much stiffer punishment for a person who is convicted of having any kind of oral sexual contact with a child than if that person had engaged in sexual intercourse with the child. A person convicted of aggravated child molestation for the first time faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and can be sentenced to prison for life. Registration as a sex offender is mandatory for someone convicted of aggravated child molestation.
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Defending Against Child Molestation Charges
Defending allegations of child molestation is often a complicated and lengthy endeavor. Among the first steps is to examine the statements made by the alleged victim or witnesses for any inconsistencies and the circumstances under which the statements were made. Inconsistent statements or a failure by law enforcement to follow standard protocol in attaining statements are indicators that an allegation is false. Children are exceptionally prone to suggestibility and coercion by adults or other children. Police officers or social workers not trained in the practice of interviewing children often extract statements that are exaggerated or purely fabricated. The way questions are phrased may lead to inaccurate responses. In many cases, these statements may be taped and offered to a jury for their consideration.
Defense counsel should also conduct an investigation into the background of the people involved in the case. The purpose of a background investigation is to search for any motive or explanation as to why the allegations were made. For example, it is not unheard of during a heated divorce for there to be false allegations of molestation. Allegations of molestation are often made by an adult with grievances towards another adult. In fact, there are times when a witness’ testimony regarding a child’s out-of-court statements is simply too unreliable, and a judge will not allow a jury to hear it. In the case of alleged adult victims, the social and legal history of the alleged victim will be examined for any red flags. Accusations are often made based on embarrassment, jealousy, or other emotions when no crime has been committed.
Medical evidence is another common issue raised at trial. With many sex crime allegations, a medical report is produced. It is important for a defense attorney to interview any treating physicians or nurses if possible, since not all the important information is contained within a medical report. Factors such as timing, the degree and type of damage, and physical evidence must be compared with the allegations. An expert witness may be needed to show that the allegations do not match the medical evidence, or that the evidence is benign in nature.
It is important to remember that false allegations can and do lead to convictions. That’s why it is absolutely necessary to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will defend your rights and fight for your interests. Our firm has successfully represented those falsely accused of child molestation for many years.
If you or someone you know has been falsely accused of child molestation or aggravated child molestation, give us a call and we will let you know if we can help.