The Rights of Those Falsely Accused of Sexual Assault in California

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In late 2017, a widespread “#MeToo” campaign tore across the country, highlighting multiple incidents of high-profile assaults committed by actors, CEOs of large corporations and other prominent members of the community. This campaign also caused millions of people across the country to reveal information about their own assaults and make accusations against people who may have never been confronted before.

With the prevalence of so many stories regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment, some people have worried that they may be subject to false accusations or exaggerations of minor incidents that happened years ago.

Widespread Reports

The campaign began amid allegations that a famous Hollywood producer pressured actresses to perform sexual favors for him in exchange for casting them in his movies. Additionally, 40 lawmakers in 20 different states were accused of some type of alleged sexual assault, harassment or misconduct by more than 100 individuals. Other accusations were made against business leaders, medical professionals, technology professionals, news and entertainment media members and others.

The widespread reports resulted in the damage of many high-profile individuals’ reputations. Many individuals lost their jobs and careers after the allegations were made against them. Additionally, many of their marriages have not recovered after the accusations. Many of the situations that are being alleged occurred many years ago at a time that is beyond the statute of limitations. Individuals who are accused of sexual assault in such a heightened environment often feel helpless. However, it is important that they understand their rights.

Sex Crimes

Many individuals may have been accused of sexual assault, rape or sexual harassment. Sexual assault is defined by California law as an unwanted touching of another person’s intimate body parts while the victim was restrained for the purpose of the defendant’s sexual arousal or gratification. Rape is a separate offense, defined as engaging in unwanted sexual intercourse with another individual who is not willing or able to consent through the use of physical force, threat or violence. Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances or conduct based on a person’s sex, usually committed in the workplace.

Some of the accusations that arose after the campaign were based on rape. While this definition may differ in other jurisdictions, in California, rape involves a non-consensual act. This non-consent may be founded on the victim explicitly saying no, the victim’s age, impairment based on drugs or alcohol or impairment based on mental incapacity. Additionally, the victim must be penetrated in some fashion. Each separate act of penetration can be charged as a separate count of rape.

Vague Accusations

A central problem with many of the accusations is that they are vague in nature. Some allegations are based on misunderstandings or consensual acts that were later regretted and reframed in the alleged victim’s mind and memory. Other instances involve potentially inappropriate behavior in a workplace, such as asking someone out on a date or making comments of a sexual nature. However, these actions do not usually constitute a sex crime even if they may constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. However, these types of cases are civil matters that can be separately pursued as a case against the offender or employer. Some of these accusations are based on such situations as a person placing a hand on someone else’s shoulder, complimenting someone, noticing what someone is wearing or other acts that simply do not rise to a criminal level and may be given more attention due to the current social climate regarding accusations of sexual assault or harassment.

Rights of the Accused

Individuals who are facing accusations of this nature may not understand that they have certain rights. A person who is accused of a long-ago sexual act should be aware of the statute of limitations for the act. If this time limit has passed, a prosecutor cannot bring the charge against the individual. If a person is charged with a crime that transpired within the statute of limitations, he or she has certain rights that attach immediately, such as the right to remain silent and the right to contact a lawyer. He or she does not have to provide any potentially incriminating information against himself or herself.

Contact a Lawyer for Assistance

If you would like assistance in challenging false allegations against you of a false nature, it is important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer for assistance. A criminal defense lawyer can explain the defendant’s rights to him or her and lodge an individualized defense strategy that is based on the specific circumstances of your case.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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