Do I Need a Lawyer When Questioned About a Sexual Assault?
Without question, you need a lawyer with you when questioned about sexual assault. Even if you know you didn’t commit the crime and don’t feel concerned about the process, consider the benefits of having a lawyer on your side.
During questioning, you could make statements that hurt or even incriminate you. An attorney can protect your rights and ensure that you don’t say anything that could jeopardize your freedom. If you face sexual assault charges, you may also want to hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you throughout the case. They can fight for the best possible outcome.
Do I Have to Answer a Police Officer’s Questions?
You could face questioning from a police officer in several situations. For example, they may come to your home, contact you by phone, or stop you on the street. When face-to-face with law enforcement, your first instinct may be to cooperate and answer the officer’s questions.
However, know that you have the right to refuse this questioning until you have a lawyer to represent you.
Understanding Your Constitutional Rights Under Questioning
Dealing with police can feel nerve-wracking.
However, know that police have to follow certain rules and procedures when interacting with suspects—and you have rights, including:
The right to remain silent. The Fifth Amendment grants you the right to avoid self-incrimination. This constitutional law set the foundation for Miranda rights. Following the 1966 trial, Miranda v. Arizona, those in police custody received the right to be informed of their right to remain silent and receive a lawyer’s counsel before questioning.
The right to not undergo unreasonable search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment grants you this right. If the police want to search your home or vehicle, they need probable cause or a warrant. You can refuse a search if they ask to do so without cause or a warrant.
If you are face-to-face with an officer and feel pressured to cooperate, you can always ask if you are free to leave. If you do not face arrest, you should have the right to go.
The ACLU offers a detailed description of your rights during a traffic stop, when approached by immigration officials, and in other situations. These same constitutional rights apply if an officer is a part of the local police, the FBI, or another agency.
Other Reasons to Refuse Questioning
Even if you know your rights, you may want to tell your side of the story.
Consider a few more reasons why you should avoid speaking with the police until you have a lawyer’s help:
- The officer has training in questioning suspects. They may make you feel comfortable enough to say things that end up incriminating you.
- The officer may not have a neutral view of you. They may have leads from other suspects that suggest your guilt. They could also view you with a bias based on factors outside of your control.
- You may encounter aggressive tactics. No law requires police to maintain honesty during questioning. In some situations, police could misrepresent another party’s words to elicit incriminating details from you. You may encounter other aggressive tactics during the case’s investigation.
A simple attempt to clear your name can quickly result in a complicated legal situation. You may intend to offer the simple truth, but it could end up as evidence against you.
What to Do if You Face Accusations of Sexual Assault
If you find yourself accused of sexual assault, you should take a few crucial steps (and avoid others) to protect your rights and improve your chances of building a solid defense.
You should consider:
- Writing down witnesses’ names: If anyone can speak to your relationship with the victim, the incident, your whereabouts when the incident happened, or other important case details, write down their names and contact information. As time goes on, it may prove challenging to recall these witnesses, or they may leave the area.
- Preserving important evidence: Keep any documents, physical evidence, communication records (such as phone calls or texts), or other information that could prove useful to your case. This includes any records showing where you were at the time of the incident, such as photos or videos of social events, GPS location on your cell phone, and other details.
- Avoid discussing the case’s details: You likely want to get support if you face criminal charges. However, avoid posting information about your case on social media, elsewhere on the internet, or with anyone connected to the case. What you say can hurt your defense.
- Refraining from contacting the alleged victim: Refrain from interacting with the victim. Avoid talking about the case with them and avoid any other situation where you could have contact.
- Refuse testing and other evidence collection: Unless you must do so, don’t agree to DNA testing or give other evidence during the investigation until you speak with a lawyer’s team.
- Getting a case review from a law firm: A criminal defense attorney’s team can help you understand the steps to take when you face a sexual assault accusation or charges. Many firms offer free case reviews, which allow you to ask questions about your legal options.
You have a legal right to have a lawyer when questioned about sexual assault. If you choose to hire an attorney, they can represent you during any police interviews, court appearances, or hearings you may face.
Possible Consequences of a Conviction in a Sexual Assault Case
Even if you feel confident in your innocence, you should keep in mind that serious consequences can result from a conviction. While the prosecutor has the burden of proof to demonstrate that you committed the crime without a reasonable doubt, you cannot predict the outcome of a jury trial.
Sexual assault is a class 2 felony, a serious charge.
You could face these penalties following a conviction under Arizona law:
First offense: Imprisonment between 5.25 and 14 years
Second felony offense: Imprisonment between seven and 21 years
Third felony offense: Imprisonment between 14 and 28 years
Your potential penalties could increase if you face aggravated charges or other charges in addition to sexual assault. For instance, if evidence shows that you gave certain drugs to the victim without their consent (such as flunitrazepam, gamma hydroxybutyrate, or ketamine hydrochloride), your prison sentence could increase by three years.
Penalties for related charges, such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, or sex trafficking, range from misdemeanor to felony charges. A conviction for these crimes could also lead to prison time, steep fines, and other penalties.
Additionally, a felony conviction can bring many long-term challenges outside of the legal system. A criminal record could make it difficult for you to find housing, employment, or secure a loan. The social stigma that comes with a felony conviction can also prove burdensome.
Convicted sex offenders must also register with the local sheriff’s office within 72 hours of conviction. Depending on the offense, they may need to share personal information—including addresses, employment, vehicle information, and more—for a publicly available database. In certain states, sex offenders may not live within a specified distance of a school.
In short, receiving a sex crime conviction can affect your life in many difficult ways. To give yourself a good chance of a strong defense, consider contacting a law firm to learn more about your options.
What to Expect From a Criminal Case Process
You should know what to expect from a criminal case’s proceedings.
In Arizona, a criminal case will generally progress through these stages:
After a survivor of sexual assault reports the crime to the police, they will begin an investigation. Police will gather as much evidence as possible about the case before bringing charges.
They may review evidence such as:
- Biological evidence: A survivor who reports a sexual assault may undergo a medical examination. Authorities may use DNA evidence and other information gathered from this exam as evidence.
- Witness testimony: Police may speak with anyone connected to the case or who may have witnessed the events.
- Evidence to back up witness statements: This could include photos or videos of the scene, such as surveillance camera footage. Images, maps, or models could also prove relevant.
- Evidence from the scene: This could include any physical item relevant to the case that was present at the crime scene. This could include a gun, knife, piece of clothing, or other physical evidence found at the scene by police.
- Interview with the accused: Police may also gather crucial evidence by questioning the accused.
Other evidence could prove relevant in a sexual assault case. Depending on the case’s details, the investigation phase could take months. Arizona does not have a criminal statute of limitations on certain offenses, meaning an investigation could take years before the state files charges.
Arrest and Initial Appearance
If the police believe they have probable cause to suspect you or another party committed the crime, they will make an arrest.
If you go to jail, you should also remain aware of your right to an attorney. You do not have to answer police questions while in custody. Tell the police that you want a lawyer during questioning, and they shouldn’t ask any more questions.
The accused will then appear before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. This is known as an initial appearance. At this time, the judge reviews whether the evidence suggests probable cause that they committed the crime. Alternatively, those facing felony charges may go through a preliminary hearing involving witness testimony.
If the judge finds probable cause, either through an initial appearance or a preliminary hearing, the accused needs to appear for an arraignment. At this stage, the defendant will make their plea of guilty or not guilty to the crime as charged.
The case may end at this point if the defendant pleads guilty or no contest. Then, they will receive sentencing. However, those who plead not guilty may face trial if their attorney cannot resolve the case through other strategies.
Defendants may proceed to a jury trial. If they hire a sexual assault defense lawyer, their attorney can represent them throughout the process. Or, they can receive a court-appointed attorney for their defense.
If the jury finds the defendant guilty, their attorney can also help them with an appeal.
How an Attorney Can Help You During a Criminal Case
If you find yourself facing questioning about a sexual assault or you now face charges, you shouldn’t give up. You may want to have a lawyer on your side.
Consider a few more reasons why you may want to work with a lawyer.
- Represent you through every step: From the initial investigation to arraignment or other court-ordered appearances, an attorney can speak for your best interests. They can also advise you on what to say and what not to say.
- Build your defense: A good criminal defense lawyer has experience building defenses in sexual assault cases. They can scrutinize the evidence in your case and tailor their defense strategy accordingly. They may challenge your charges based on an illegal arrest, improper evidence collection or handling, argue that you were falsely accused, or pursue many other defense strategies.
- Negotiate with prosecutors: If you face criminal charges, you may not automatically go to a jury trial. Your attorney may negotiate with prosecutors to arrange a plea bargain or otherwise reduce your penalties.
- Bring experience with the local courts: A lawyer familiar with the local court system can help you navigate the complexities of a criminal case. They know courtroom procedure and can ensure your case is on track.
- Protect your rights: It can prove easy to make mistakes that harm your case. A lawyer knows your constitutional rights. They can ensure that you use them to the fullest extent.
You have the right to partner with a lawyer when facing sexual assault charges. Do not navigate this challenging time alone. Hire an experienced, knowledgeable defense lawyer to represent and protect you.