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Sex Crimes

Criminal Lawyers for Sex Crimes in Virginia

If you or a loved one have been charged with a sex crime in Virginia, you may not know where to begin or what to expect. The criminal attorneys of Robinson Law have years of experience defending the rights of those who have been charged with sex crimes, such as aggravated sexual battery, indecent exposure, rape and possessing child pornography. The penalties for sex crime convictions in Virginia vary, but may involve heavy jail time, fines and a permanent spot on the sex offender registry.

I’m Under Investigation for a Sex Crime in Virginia – Do I Need A Lawyer?

If you’ve been accused of any kind of sexual assault, you’re probably in a tailspin right now. It feels like you’ve been hit by a ton of bricks and you’re in a panic about how to defend yourself. It is precisely at this time that you need to consult with an attorney about what you’re facing, what comes next, and how to protect yourself and build a defense that could save your liberty and livelihood.

What do I do first?

The best thing to do is to remain silent! Your first instinct might be to launch into a lengthy defense of yourself to friends and family, to try and smooth things over and calm everybody down, but that could quickly turn against you. You know how police advise people that “you have the right to remain silent and everything you say can and will be used against you”? They’re not kidding! Everything you say will be used against you, whether it’s to a police officer, a friend, or a family member. A prosecutor who believes you are guilty will twist every single statement you make into some signal of guilt. Maybe you defend yourself too vigorously, or maybe you supply details that “only a guilty person would know.” If you make an apology to somebody just to try and calm them down, that will be used as evidence of a guilty conscience. If you misremember something, then when it’s later proven to be untrue then you’ll be made out to be a liar. You have the right to remain silent – use it!

But I’m innocent, don’t innocent people have nothing to hide?

It is particularly important to remain silent if you are innocent. Our Founding Fathers and drafters of the Constitution made sure that we have the right to remain silent so that the innocent are protected from the government’s overwhelming power. There are hundreds of documented cases of individuals being falsely convicted based solely on their statements, and likely thousands more instances that are undocumented. Michael Morton spent 24 years in prison for murdering his wife because he had told investigators they had an argument the day before, until DNA evidence later proved he didn’t do it. Four United States Navy enlisted men in Norfolk, Virginia, known as the “Norfolk Four,” confessed to killing a woman who lived in their building, until DNA evidence later proved they didn’t do it. But DNA evidence isn’t available in every case to prove that a person didn’t commit a crime, so it is important that you not give the police any more evidence to use against you than they might already have.

Isn’t the police officer going to arrest me if I don’t talk to them?

You can’t talk yourself out of an arrest; you can only talk yourself into one. If the police officer is planning to arrest you, then he or she will do that no matter what, and talking to them is not going to change their mind. You will only put yourself in a position to hurt yourself.

Why do people make false confessions? Or, what if I’ve already talked to the police?

There are a number of reasons why a person might make a false confession, but mostly because police interview tactics are designed to get a person to confess. Police officers might tell you that their tactics are designed to only get guilty people to confess, but these officers very rarely use the techniques correctly. Sometimes they don’t even try to use the techniques correctly, because they are so eager to get a “confession.” If you’ve been contacted by a police officer, don’t talk to them alone. If you’ve already talked to a police officer, then it’s important that you hire an attorney to represent you who is familiar with these police interview techniques, who knows their strengths and weaknesses, and how to attack a false confession in court. Just because a person has “confessed” does not mean that all hope is lost!

How can an attorney help?

If you’ve been contacted by a police officer, immediately tell them that you will not talk to them without a lawyer. You must be very clear on this, so you can even keep it simple by saying simply “I want a lawyer.” This cannot be used against you, and does not mean that you’re guilty. All it means is that you don’t want to be tricked by somebody who wants to put you in jail. The police officer might try to calm you down and make it seem like they have nothing against you, that they “just want to clear some things up,” or that they “just want your side of the story.” If the officer is truly just looking for information, then a lawyer can help relay that information to the police officer. However, almost all of the time, the police officer thinks that you’ve done something wrong and wants you to admit doing part or all of what they think you did.

If you haven’t talked to the police officer yet, then an attorney will take all of the pressure off of you. The police officer can’t try to talk to you if you have an attorney. If the police officer is truly just looking for information, then the attorney can help give that information to the police officer. If the police officer doesn’t have enough evidence to arrest you, then the attorney will be able to figure that out from the police officer. If the police do have enough evidence to make an arrest, then an attorney can work with the police officer to make sure that you’re not dragged out of the house in the middle of the night. Hiring an attorney right away also boosts your chances of getting a bond quickly so that you don’t have to spend an extended period of time in jail. The four most important words to remember when a police officer tries to talk to you are “I WANT A LAWYER!”

Virginia Criminal Lawyers for Indecent Liberties Charges

Children are our future and are a blessing, but when they make false accusations of physical and sexual abuse, they can turn an individual person’s future into a nightmare. If you or a loved one are facing spurious accusations of sexual abuse of a child, it is important that you have an advocate on your side who is not afraid to defend you and will fight vigorously for you, no matter how shameful the claims might be.

What does Virginia law say?

There are several laws that make sexual abuse against minors a crime. All types of sexual intercourse with a minor under 13 years old are known as “statutory rape,” and are punished by a mandatory life sentence in prison. Va. Code Sections 18.2-61, 18.2-67.1, 18.2-67.2. This includes any type of penetration with any type of object for a non-medical purpose. Va. Code Section 18.2-67.2.

But other types of sexual contact or sexual activity with minors are also a crime called “taking indecent liberties” with a child. For these crimes, a “child” is any person under 15 years old. A person who exposes his or her genitals to a child, asks a child to fondle his or her genitals, or even proposes any type of sexual contact, is guilty of indecent liberties if it was done with “lascivious intent.” Va. Code Section 18.2-370. “Lascivious intent” means that you had the purpose of being sexually aroused. Taking indecent liberties with a child is a Class 5 felony, meaning that it can be punished by up to 10 years in prison. If these “indecent liberties” are done between two minors, then it is only a misdemeanor for the minor. Va. Code Section 18.2-370.01.

In Virginia, the law does not use the actual term “age of consent.” There is no law that says how old a person must be before it’s not a crime to have consensual sex with him or her. However, consensual sex with any person 16 years old or older is not included in any criminal statute, as long as the minor is not in the legal custody of the other consenting adult. In other words, it’s only a crime to have consensual sexual activities with a person who is 16, 17, or 18 years old if you’re the person’s guardian or have some other legal supervisory authority over that minor. See Va. Code Sections 18.2-63, 18.2-64.1, 18.2-370, 18.2-370.1.

However, all types of sexual intercourse and sexual contact are illegal between a person and his or her parents, grandparents, or siblings, including step-parents, step-grandparents, and step-siblings, no matter how old either person is and no matter whether they consent. Va. Code Sections 18.2-361, 18.2-366.

Don’t children always tell the truth about these kinds of acts?

No! Anybody who has asked a chocolate-covered child if he ate the pan of brownies on the countertop knows that children must be taught to tell the truth, and that they can and will lie if it benefits them in some way. Many adults are the same way! Just because the child is talking about sexual activity does not make him or her more truthful or reliable. A skilled attorney will be familiar with the reasons that children might lie or embellish their stories, such as a desire for attention. Your attorney can also find out where this child might have been exposed to such behavior elsewhere, such as on television, the internet, or at a friend or relative’s house.

Children are also highly susceptible to manipulation, so this must also be defended against. A sloppy interview by a counselor, police officer, or even family member can plant ideas in a child’s head that then color all subsequent interviews and even the child’s testimony at trial. It is important that you have an attorney who is familiar with appropriate child-interview techniques so that she can see if the child’s story has been manipulated or influenced in any way.

I’m so ashamed and embarrassed that I’ve been accused of these things!

Your attorney should not be afraid to defend you against such terrible and life-altering charges as sexual abuse against children. You should have an attorney who treats you with kindness, while passionately fighting for you in the courtroom. You might feel like you’ve been judged guilty by others just because you were accused, but you should hire an attorney that believes in you and in your defense.

What do I do if somebody is accusing me of acting inappropriately towards a child?

Contact a lawyer immediately! NEVER talk to a police officer without an attorney; this is particularly important if you are innocent! You cannot talk yourself out of an arrest, you can only talk yourself into one. Cases involving children can often be difficult to prove in court without some sort of statement or confession from the accused person. Don’t give the police and prosecution more ammunition to use against you in court.

A police officer who is investigating a claim of child sexual abuse will almost always try to get you to talk to them about the accusations. The police officer may say things like they only want to clear things up, or they only want to hear your side of the story. But what the police officer is really trying to do is get you to admit that you did something illegal. The police officer will use various conversational tactics to make you feel like admitting to criminal behavior is your only choice. You may think that you would never fall for such tricks, but hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people have fallen for these same tricks that police officers use.

You also should not talk about these accusations with other people, because your statements to them could be used against you in court too. A family member or friend may try to call you and get you to talk about the case on the phone, all while a police officer is recording the conversation to use in court. Something that you may think is completely innocent could then be used to “prove you guilty” in court.

Child Pornography in Virginia: When Sharing is NOT Caring

The state and federal laws that make it a crime to have, make, or give child pornography are some of the strictest and most severe laws on the books. If you've been charged with producing child pornography, distributing child pornography, or even simply possessing child pornography, you need a defense attorney who is sensitive to your situation but tough and bold in the courtroom.

What does Virginia law say about child pornography?

Virginia Code Section 18.2-374.1:1 makes it a crime to have child pornography, to share it with others, or to make it. First offenses have no mandatory minimum punishments in state court, but sharing child pornography files more than once can land a person in prison for at least five years for each time it’s shared.

In federal court, the laws are spread across several sections of the law but the main section is 18 United States Code Section 2252. The punishments are much harsher in federal court; each charge of simply possessing an item of child pornography is a mandatory minimum of five years in prison. Also, the federal government has much more resources to prosecute a person for possessing or distributing child pornography, so cases in federal court require much more time and effort to defend against. When choosing an attorney for this kind of case, you should make sure that she is knowledgeable about how the police build these cases against people and all of the sophisticated technology that is involved.

How do the police build cases against people for possessing or distributing child pornography?

Many cases of possessing child pornography cases involve online bit torrent file-sharing programs, such as Ares, Limewire, or BitTorrent itself. These programs allow a person to download a file, such as child pornography, in bits and pieces from several different people. Once a user downloads the child pornography file, it goes into a “shared” folder, which can then be downloaded in bits by other people.

Most commonly, the police will try to download known child pornography files on the torrent programs in order to see which other uses have them in their “shared” folder. Then the police get search warrants for the addresses where the user is located, and they take computers and ask questions to the people that live there. As with any other type of investigation, do not talk to the police without your lawyer present!

You have the right to remain silent, even if the police don't read you your rights before they start asking questions. This is especially important if you are innocent! The police will try to find out who owns which computers, and telling the police that you use a certain computer can be used to send you to jail, even if your computer was hacked, or if many other people had access to your computer. It is important that you call an attorney right away if the police come to your house or if they call you and want to talk to you about computers and internet users in your house.

If you are being investigated for possessing or distributing child pornography, you also need to make sure that you have a lawyer who is familiar with the investigative techniques that the police use, and who is knowledgeable about the strengths and weaknesses of file-sharing technology used by the public and police. You should make sure your attorney is familiar with terms like IP addresses, MD5 hash values, unallocated space, NCMEC, VPN, Tor, and forensic computer analysis.

Why does somebody have dozens of charges, when he only had one computer?

Each image or video file of child pornography that a person has can be a separate charge. Practically speaking, the prosecutor can't bring a charge for each and every file that a user has on his computer, so they usually choose the most graphic and outrageous pictures and videos to show in court, even if those files were never opened or were deleted. The prosecutor can also charge a user with possessing child pornography as a “second offense,” even if the person has a completely clean criminal record and only downloaded files on one occasion. The prosecutor stacks the deck against a defendant in this way, so it is very important to have an attorney who is familiar with these charges who can negotiate and advocate for you, both in and out of the courtroom.

I never gave anything to anybody, why am I charged with distribution of child pornography? Merely having child pornography files in a “shared” folder, where other users can access them and download bits from them can be enough to make a person guilty of distributing child pornography. A user does not need to actually want or intend to share the files, or even know that other users are downloading these bits, in order to be found guilty of “distributing” child pornography. Many filesharing programs automatically set up these “shared” folders on a user's computer, without the user even knowing it, which can lead to some of the most severe charges. If you're charged with distributing child pornography, you need to hire a lawyer who is familiar with the file-sharing technology so she can effectively fight for you in court.

Why are these laws so tough? The user didn't hurt anybody; they’re just pictures.

The United States Supreme Court said that every time a person looks at a picture of child pornography, it is like the child in the picture is being victimized again. Also, many police, prosecutors, and judges have a false belief that people who view or possess child pornography are one step away from abusing, molesting, or victimizing children in real life. However, studies show that a person who possesses child pornography is at a very low risk of harming children in real life. Possessing child pornography is not a “stepping stone” or “gateway drug” to sexual abuse of children in real life. Two-thirds of persons convicted of possessing child pornography had never had any type of illegal contact with children. Chapter 7, 2012 Report to the Congress: Federal Child Pornography Offenses. United States Sentencing Commission, Less than ten percent of persons who were convicted of possessing child pornography commit new sexual offenses after conviction. Chapter 117, 2012 Report to the Congress: Federal Child Pornography Offenses, United States Sentencing Commission.

If you've been charged with possessing child pornography, you need a lawyer who understands the science and evidence about the lack of future danger of those who have possessed child pornography, so that your lawyer can effectively argue for you and to keep any punishment as light as possible.

Virginia Criminal Defense Attorneys for Prostitution and Sex Trafficking

Everybody should have a right to make a living, but some ways of earning money are illegal, including the “oldest profession” of prostitution. If you’ve been accused of a crime involving prostitution, it is important that you have an attorney who respects you and who fights for your rights in court.

Is prostitution illegal in Virginia?

Yes. A person who has any type of sexual intercourse (including oral, anal, or vaginal) in exchange for money or other valuable things is guilty of prostitution. Va. Code Section 18.2-346. A person who offers money or valuable things in exchange for receiving sex is guilty of soliciting prostitution. Va. Code Section 18.2-346. Both of these are Class 1 misdemeanors, and can be punished by up to 12 months in jail, or a $2500 fine, or both. These cases are often proven through sting operations, where a police officer poses as a prostitute or a client and chats with an unsuspecting person to set up a prostitution date. Those electronic messages and phone calls are later used to show that the person was trying to set up a prostitution date. These cases can also be proved if the person is arrested after the prostitution date and makes statements about having sex for money, or paying for sex.

It’s also illegal to keep or maintain a place that’s used for prostitution; that is called “keeping a bawdy place.” Va. Code Section 18.2-347. It’s also a Class 1 misdemeanor. It is rare to have a place dedicated to prostitution in Virginia, unlike in some states where a person might visit a specific place to pay for sex. In modern times, persons are often accused of “keeping a bawdy place” when they are renting a hotel room for the purpose of hosting prostitution clients. If police can’t prove that a person had any particular prostitution dates, then they may try to prove that a person had “set up shop” in a hotel and had invited clients or dates over. It might even be enough to find somebody guilty if a particular place had a reputation in the community for being a place of prostitution!

If you’re charged with prostitution, solicitation, or keeping a bawdy place, it is important that you hire an attorney who is familiar with the laws and what the prosecutor must prove to show that you broke those laws.

Is it illegal to set up prostitution dates for somebody else, even if I don’t do anything else?

Helping somebody engage in prostitution is also a Class 1 misdemeanor (or a felony if the person was under 18). Va. Code Section 18.2-348. You don’t even have to receive anything in return for it to be a crime, as long as you know that you’re helping the person have sex for money. Va. Code Section 18.2-348. Even travel agents are not allowed to advertise “sex tourism.” It’s a crime for travel agents to advertise travel and vacations for people who want to engage in prostitution on their trips! Va. Code Section 18.2-348.1.

For pimping, or receiving money from a prostitute’s earnings, the punishments are more severe. Virginia law uses the word “pandering” for pimping, and makes it a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Va. Code Section 18.2-357. If you’re recruiting or encouraging somebody to engage in prostitution, it’s also punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Va. Code Section 18.2-357.1.

In these types of cases, it might be difficult for the prosecutor to show that you knew about the person you were helping or the person you were receiving money from. If the police don’t have statements from you about what you knew, or statements from witnesses about what they told you, then the prosecutor will have to rely on circumstantial evidence and prove that the evidence shows that you could have only been doing something illegal, and prove that it couldn’t have been for something legal and innocent. In these situations, you need an attorney who will work hard to discredit the witnesses against you, and who will use her skill and persuasiveness to show that the prosecutor’s evidence has an innocent explanation.

What is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking is forcing a person to engage in prostitution, either because it was against the person’s will or because the person is underage. Va. Code Section 18.2-355. Regular prostitution isn’t sex trafficking if the person receiving money for sex is an adult and isn’t being forced to do it. In Virginia state courts, each instance of sex trafficking is punished by a maximum of 10 years in prison. But in federal court, the punishment for sex trafficking is a minimum of 10 years in prison and up to life in prison! Just like regular prostitution, intent is often a big issue that can be difficult for the prosecutor to prove. However, the law is in favor of the prosecutor on this issue, because they have a number of “shortcuts” they can use to prove that a person knew somebody was engaging in sex for money, or that somebody was underage. If you’re accused of sex trafficking, it’s very important that you have a zealous attorney who will fight for you.

What if a person has sex in exchange for “gifts” or “tips”? What about sugar babies and sugar daddies?

Anything that has a money value and is exchanged directly for sex counts as prostitution under Virginia law. It must be a quid pro quo, or “this for that” type of exchange. The closer that an interaction looks like a transaction for services that include sex, the more likely a judge is to find that somebody engaged in prostitution. Common examples include “escorting” or “special massages.” If a person is paying for a service, such as companionship or massages, and part of those services include sex, then a judge is likely to find that it is prostitution. These ways of trying to get around laws against prostitution often don’t work, because the laws are written in a way to make those “work arounds” illegal too, and judges are likely to see through them.

But if there is some other relationship that exists outside of the sex and gifts, then it is less likely that a person will be guilty of prostitution. If the people spend time together other than when they have sex, and sex or gifts are shared with each other without expectation of a direct “repayment,” then the more likely your relationship will not be called prostitution.

If you’re accused of exchanging gifts for sex, it is important to hire a compassionate attorney who will argue passionately on your behalf and work for your best interests.

What if I only talked about having sex for money, but never actually went through with it?

Just talking about having sex for money isn’t enough to find somebody guilty of prostitution. In the case of Adams v. Commonwealth, 215 Va. 257, 208 S.E.2d 742 (1974), a person in a massage parlor who offered to have sex for money was not guilty of prostitution because she remained fully clothed and didn’t do anything else to actually make it happen. Also, in the case of Golden v. Commonwealth, 30 Va. App. 618, 519 S.E.2d 378 (1999), a person who offered to “carnally know” an undercover cop “with the mouth” in exchange for money wasn’t engaged in prostitution because she didn’t do anything other than talk about it.

It is important that your attorney know what kind of evidence the prosecutor must have to prove you guilty, so that she can defend you in court and so that you don’t end up pleading guilty to something that you’re not actually guilty of.

Virginia Criminal Attorneys for Rape Charges

A rape accusation is one of the most frightening cases that a person could face. The complaining witnesses can be very emotional and believable, and there can often be only her or his testimony about what happened. When such a tragedy strikes, it is important that you have an experienced attorney who will represent you fearlessly in court.

What is Rape?

In Virginia, “rape” is defined very narrowly, but there are a number of other offenses that criminalize other acts. Rape is sexual intercourse that is against the victim’s will and is done with force, threat, or intimidation, or with the victim’s physical helplessness. Va. Code Section 18.2-61. Sexual intercourse with a child under 13 is also rape, or what you may have heard of as “statutory rape.” Consensual sex with a minor between 13 and 16 is also a crime, but is called “carnal knowledge” instead of rape and is a less serious class of crime. Va. Code Section 18.2-63.

If the complaining witness claims that she or he was assaulted some other way than by sexual intercourse, then the laws call it or “sodomy” or “object sexual penetration.” Sodomy involves what is traditionally referred to as oral sex or anal sex, and still requires that the complaining witness be forced, incapacitated, or under 13 years old. Va. Code Section 18.2-67.1. Object sexual penetration involves penetration with something other than a penis or a mouth, such as hands or toys, and also requires that the complaining witness be forced, incapacitated, or under 13 years old. Va. Code Section 18.2-67.2.

What if it wasn’t rape but the witness still says I touched her some other way?

There are two “catch-all” laws in Virginia for other types of sexual assault, called sexual battery and aggravated sexual battery. Sexual battery is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and involves any unwanted touching of a person’s private parts, like genitals, breasts, or butts. Va. Code Section 18.2-67.4. There are certain things that can make it a more serious crime called aggravated sexual battery, such as the age of the complaining witness or whether it was done by force. Va Code Section 18.2-67.3.

It is important that you hire an attorney who is familiar with each criminal offense and each of their intricacies so that she can build an effective defense for you.

“But she wanted to have sex with me!”

Consent is a common defense to rape and other sexual assaults. There are many reasons why a person may make a claim of sexual assault when you thought she or he had consented to it. Sometimes that person is consciously or unconsciously embarrassed by their own behavior, or is being manipulated by another person. Sometimes that person may be motivated by money or favorable treatment by law enforcement. Sometimes the person may have been intoxicated and did not remember consenting to sex even though she did consent to it at the time. In any situation, if you had sex with a person that you believed had agreed to have sex with you, and are now facing rape or other sexual assault allegations, it is important that you are represented by an attorney who is familiar with the reasons why a person may make a false claim of sexual assault and how to defend you from such false claims.

What about DNA?

DNA is much more fragile than many people realize, and it is not recovered in every sexual assault case because there isn’t enough of it or it has been wiped or washed away. If there is DNA involved in your case, then it is very important that you are represented by an attorney who does not merely take DNA analysis at face value. Not all DNA analysis is created equal, and it must be scrutinized carefully to be sure that it is reliable. Even if there is DNA evidence linking a person to a crime, there can be other, non-criminal explanations for that DNA evidence.

Unfortunately, a person can still be convicted even if there is no DNA or other forensic evidence. Often the only real evidence against a person is the complaining witness’s testimony. You should be represented by a skilled attorney who is able to cross-examine the complaining witness to break down her or his story in a way that persuades a judge or a jury that you are not guilty.

Why do you keep saying “complaining witness” instead of “victim”?

If you’re charged with a criminal sexual assault, you are still innocent until proven guilty in court. In these cases, the main witness is often called the “victim,” but we believe that using this label admits that a crime has been committed before it has been proven in court. Instead, we call this person a complaining witness, which acknowledges that she or he claims that there has been some wrongdoing, but does not admit that you were involved in it or that you did anything wrong. It is one small way that we continuously fight for persons who are accused of crimes.

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