Sex offenses are definitely the most emotionally charged crime to defend due to the alleged facts. We specialize in sex offenses as many attorneys will not take these cases or simply want to plead their clients guilty. In Shelby County, sex offense defense is an uphill battle because the jury pool is very conservative and most do not want to hear the facts much less deliberate on the evidence. In other counties such as Jefferson and the Bessemer Cut-Off, the juries are more realistic and much less conservative. Even in the most liberal of counties, the penalties for sex offenders are so great that the cases almost always have to be tried because they carry with them Community Notification and Registration which is discussed in a separate section of this website.
The way our office approaches a sex offense if very unique much like our trial approach. We feel it is imperative for a female lawyer to play a very active part in the trial of a male alleged with a sex offense. The one thing that shocks most of our clients is the only evidence the State needs to prosecute someone for a sex offense is the word of a victim. For example, if a person wanted to make up that someone inappropriately touched him or her, this is enough for an arrest and conviction. The law does not demand any physical evidence and surprisingly most juries do not require this type of proof in our experience. This is the reason very aggressive and competent counsel must be retained because the result of a guilty conviction is a lifelong label as a sex offender being sent to your neighbors in most cases and even put on your driver’s license. It does not take penetration to amount to these harsh penalties. Date rape, Statutory rape (consensual sex but the law prohibits the age difference), or a simple touching all can amount to the same penalties. This is something the legislature has enacted by not drawing a distinction between a violent rape and a consensual sexual encounter between a boyfriend and girlfriend where one is a senior in high school for example and one is a sophomore. We also have found in many instances that people allege these types of activity during divorce proceedings to bolster their case to get custody of their children.
We will initially have you come in to our office for a free consultation and get a good idea of the facts of your case. We will discuss pros and cons of trying to do what we have developed the pre-indictment packet, possibly a polygraph, and talk with the officer working the case to get an idea of what the actual allegations are at the initial report. We need to find out if any physical evidence is present because we can subpoena clothing and other items and use the defendant’s DNA to rule the accused out as a suspect. This is a very new innovative approach / defense called “touch DNA.” Additionally, we find out where the case is and what prosecutor the case is assigned to because each prosecutor has their own style and system of handling cases. Knowing your adversary, in this case the prosecutor will tell us the approach we need to take initially in handling this type of case.
The second step is the Pretrial Preparation. We get discovery from the State which will give us our initial leads so we can get our own investigator to do independent investigation. In these types of crimes, you do not need to wait to find defense friendly witnesses; we like to immediately get witness statements and start preparing and working to protect your rights because the State already has a head start on us. We subpoena records liberally. The facts dictate what types of records we need. Sometimes, it is medical and psychological records and other times, it is phone records, etc. If the case calls for it as a matter of course we subpoena the Department of Human Resources (DHR), Advocacy Center if a child victim has given a statement, hospitals, medical providers and school records. We cannot just depend on records from the State because they are prosecuting and we are defending so it stands to reason that we need different information.
In some cases victims, will recant and decide to tell the truth about what happened and they will admit that they have lied because of pressure from an adult or other family member. We immediately want to get a signed affidavit or video interview with the child that is recanting, if possible, depending on if the accused is able to see the victim. Sometimes the victim’s caregiver and not the accused is the one who brings the victim in to make the recantation. We prepare many, many Motions in Limine depending on the facts of each case. We make a very organized trial notebook for every case and know every fact in your case. We have to know this so we know what evidence to try and keep out and what additional records we need to subpoena to defend your case. The one thing that makes an offer unreasonable is a prosecutor that knows a defense lawyer will not try your case. We can promise you that when we appear in Court for you, we are prepared and anticipate to the best of our ability everything that the State can use against you. We are very aggressive on these cases because sometimes they are very hard to settle and have to be tried because the legislature has made the law such that there is really no middle ground.
During the actual trial, we try every case together as a team because our strengths and weaknesses work together and produce a very strong but effective trial team. Jurors relate differently to different people. Some people feel that a female is more believable and some people like to hear from a seasoned defense attorney with 27 years experience. We feel somehow, we try to appeal to everyone. We work very hard during our jury selection process to ask all the necessary questions and we do not sugar coat the issue. We get to the heart of the matter because we have to find out the bias and internal prejudice of jurors if we can because an internal prejudice can amount to a juror that is not able to listen to the facts and be fair and neutral. We explain that the accused has no burden of proof and ask if anyone feels that the accused is guilty just because he is charged and we normally get people to admit to this prejudice which is in our best interest because we do not want them on our jury. We are not afraid to be honest with the jurors and ask the hard questions: “Have you or anyone in your life that has influenced you ever been a victim of a sex crime even if it was not reported to the police?” Of course, we always give the juror the option to speak to the Judge and Prosecutor in private so they will tell us things that they would not want to say out loud in front of a group of people.
Sex offenses take numerous hours of preparation because a strategy has to be in place and a theme for the case. For example, you have to be careful how you handle a child victim because even if he or she is not telling the truth, jurors do not like to see a child beaten up on the witness stand. We have ways to ask the needed questions but not alienate the jury. We will talk with you extensively about whether or not you, as the accused, should take the stand, it is our client’s ultimate decision but we will guide you through making the correct decision in this situation. We have done extensive research and have a Character Evidence notebook where there is a rule known in criminal defense called, “The Mercy Rule.” This rule allows more liberal character evidence for the defendant than for other witnesses. It allows the defendant to bolster his credibility on certain traits where normally for other witnesses except the defendant this is not permitted per the Alabama Rules of Evidence. We anticipate the State’s case and have impeachment witnesses available and either at the courthouse or on-call if they need to work. These witnesses are located long before trial and are put under subpoena well before the trial is to begin. Sometimes these witnesses are provided to us by our clients but other times they are found by our investigator working the case with us.
Lara Alvis clerked for present Supreme Court Justice, The Honorable Sue Bell Cobb, after graduating from Alabama’s Law School and taking a position as an Assistant District Attorney in Shelby County. In her position as a clerk, she actually wrote opinions that were published in the Code of Alabama (1975). This job was crucial to our trial strategy now because for an issue to be raised, if convicted on appeal, it has to be what is called “properly preserved” on the record. This means when we make objections or the Judge lets in evidence which we think is harmful and unfair to our defense, we have to let the court reporter take down our objection and it has to be substantive. We cannot just say “objection” as seen on television. We are always ready with a research notebook and put case law and evidence rules on the record so if our client is convicted by the jury the Court of Criminal Appeals will look at our appeal and be able to possibly examine the issue to overturn the verdict because we preserved the error appropriately.
In closing argument in all of our trials, as long as the Judge will permit us, we split our closing and the jurors get to her from both us and we make separate but connected arguments that relate to our theme. We typically do visual aids to help the jurors understand the case and our defense better. We have in many cases done a chart on each witness pointing our inconsistencies in their statements which in many cases can amount to “Reasonable Doubt.”
Lastly, we have had all verdicts from not guilty to hung juries to guilty verdicts. Any attorney that tells you that he or she has never lost a case has not tried enough cases. There is no way to tell absolutely what twelve people will do but we fight to the end in each case and give our clients one hundred percent. We also file appropriate post trial Motions if there is guilty a verdict for a reconsideration of the verdict by the Judge and other standard motions that fit the facts of each case.