Sex crimes investigators strive to obtain statements from suspects. In nearly all situations, if the police are able to question a suspect in a sex crime they are able to build a stronger case against a perpetrator. There are a number of practical and legal considerations associated with attempting to question a suspect in a sexual assault case.
Miranda Rights and the Criminal Suspect
A primary factor that comes into play when law enforcement officials desire to question a suspect in a sex crime is the set of Miranda rights. These rights stem from a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a criminal defendant named Ernesto Miranda.
There are a number of factors that come into play when it comes to the application of Miranda rights in the investigation of a sex crime case. It is important to understand that Miranda rights are only applicable when a crime suspect is “in custody.” Typically, this means that an individual has been formally arrested. However, it can also apply to a situation in which a suspect has not been formally arrested but is in law enforcement custody and has no ability to leave or depart.
When a suspect has been formally arrested or is otherwise in police, the individual must be provided what is known as his Miranda advisement. This is a recitation of the rights that apply in this type of situation. If a person is arrested or otherwise is in custody and is questioned without being provided the Miranda advisement, the statements developed from that process can be deemed inadmissible in court.
The specific elements of a suspect’s Miranda rights are:
- Right to remain silent
- Advisement that anything a suspect says can and will be used against that individual
- Right to a lawyer
- Right to have a lawyer provided before questioning if a suspect cannot afford one
If a person is read the Miranda advisement and requests a lawyer but is not provided one, any information obtained from questioning can be excluded from court. In addition, a suspect has the absolute right to end questioning at any time after it starts.
Defense Attorneys and Suspect Statements
A considerable number of defense attorneys advise clients to not submit to questioning by police. The position defense counsel takes is that, as a general rule, a suspect gains no real benefits responding to questions when he becomes a criminal defendant. Time and again, suspects misspeak or make statements that can be construed in a manner that is harmful to a case.
Investigators oftentimes attempt to persuade a suspect to answer questions by stating “things will go easier” if a suspect or defendant cooperates with an investigation. The legal reality is that only he prosecuting attorney is in a position to extend a deal to a criminal defendant. With that said, a plea agreement between a prosecutor and defendant is subject to a judge’s approval. Thus, in the end, even if a defendant in a sex crime case cooperates, a judge has the ability to toss out any agreement reached and impose whatever sentence may be lawfully available.
False confessions are making headlines in this day and age. And, there have been notorious cases involving sex crimes and other serious offenses that did result in a person making a false confession. This nearly always happens because law enforcement investigators abused the established process associated with questioning suspects or the person who confessed had a developmental or mental health issue. For these reasons, even armed with a confession, investigators will want other evidence to buttress a case being built against a particular suspect. This includes gathering any physical evidence that can be collected, including from a forensic examination (physical examination) of the victim of a sexual assault.
Sex Crime Victim and Suspect Statement
The importance of a victim understanding the process outlined here cannot be understated. By understanding the practical and legal aspects and implications of questioning a suspect or defendant in a criminal case, a victim better understands the overall workings of the investigatory and prosecution processes.
Many jurisdictions now have now have victim advocates. These specialists can be invaluable in aiding a victim of a sex crime in understanding how a criminal case is developed and ultimately prosecuted. By having this level of victim support and assistance, a person is less likely to become overwhelmed by the criminal justice process.
In a case involving a sex crime, most jurisdictions have specially trained victim advocates available immediately after an offense of this nature is reported. Law enforcement investigators strive to have a sex assault victim undergo a forensic examination, a physical examination involving a rape kit. By definition, this is a particularly invasive process. The idea is that a victim is better able to maneuver this process with the support of a trained, experienced, compassionate advocate.