Maryland fans of courtroom dramas are familiar with the plot of the wrongly accused defendant going to trial, only to emerge victorious in the end when a jury acquits him due to lack of evidence. It's a feel-good storyline that engages viewers and allows them to believe that justice is possible, if not always easily won.
But real-life cases of acquittal don't always mean a happy ending for innocent defendants. Although they may be released from custody and free to go on with their lives, they may never be truly free from the allegations that faced them at the onset. This is especially true for those accused of sex crimes, which tend to draw and retain the ire of anyone who follows the case in the news. Public opinion isn't easily swayed by a not-guilty verdict, especially in a long trial that receives heavy and perhaps biased media coverage.
A Winnetka, Illinois, man accused of sexually assaulting the teenage daughter or a woman he was dating was acquitted of the crime last month, but in an interview after the case ended, he said the damage to his reputation had already been done. He and his attorney had sent news releases about the acquittal, all the while knowing that accusations tend to make flashier headlines than acquittals.
The man was arrested in July 2011, three years after the alleged assault. The 15-year-old girl and her mother went to police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials in 2010 and 2011 with the allegations, but after a year and a half of intense media coverage on the case, a circuit court judge ruled that they had waited too long to come forward and there were too many inconsistencies in their stories for the evidence to hold up.
While it may have been a relief to not be convicted for a crime he didn't commit, the man said he and his family suffered irreparable damage to the point that "there was no victory."
Cases like these demonstrate the need for aggressive legal representation as soon as a defendant knows he may be accused or charged with a crime. The sooner an attorney can begin working on a defense strategy and refute false allegations, the easier it is to stem the damage to the defendant's reputation.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "Winnetka man says despite acquittal, reputation tarnished by charge," Gregory Trotter, Feb. 26, 2013
- Our firm is uniquely equipped to defend those who have been convicted of sex crimes and other serious offenses. To learn more about our practice, visit our Maryland sexual assault defense page.