Articles Posted in Rape and Sex Crimes

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Under New York state law, there are three degrees of rape, with Rape in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.35) being the most serious (a Class B violent felony). Rape in the Third Degree (Penal Law 130.25), however, may be the most common criminal charge, and it can be brought in three different ways.

Per the statute: “A person is guilty of Rape in the Third Degree when: 1. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person who is incapable of consent by reason of some factor other than being less than seventeen years old; 2. Being twenty-one years old or more, he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person less than seventeen years old; or 3. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person without such person’s consent where such lack of consent is by reason of some factor other than incapacity to consent.”

Subsection 2 is the most common charge, which involves a criminal charge being brought against an older person (21 years old or older) and a complainant younger than 17. Notably, this charge can be brought against the will of the younger party, meaning that it is not necessary for the complainant to “press charges” for the older person to be convicted. Sometimes these charges are proven without the testimony of the younger party by medical evidence or pregnancy, third party witnesses (who catch and observe the people in the act of sexual intercourse), or admissions by the older party.

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The New York District Attorney’s Office recently announced that a Manhattan grand jury has indicted Harvey Weinstein for additional sexual assault charges relating to a third complainant. Specifically, Mr. Weinstein is facing an additional charge of Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.50). Mr. Weinstein was already facing a charge of Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree based upon the allegation that he had forced a different woman to perform oral sex upon him against her will, and a separate count of Rape in the First Degree for allegedly raping a second complainant. Interestingly, he is also now facing two counts of Predatory Sexual Assault (Penal Law Section 130.95). These new charges significantly alter the forecast for Mr. Weinstein and seriously hamper his defense for tactical reasons discussed below.

Predatory Sexual Assault charges are very serious Class A-II felonies. They carry mandatory minimum prison sentences of ten years in jail, and a conviction for this crime carries a mandatory maximum sentence of life in prison. (Thus, for example, a person sentenced to an indeterminate prison sentence of ten years to life would be eligible for parole after roughly ten years, and if granted parole would then be on parole for the rest of his life.) These charges can apply in a variety of circumstances, but here, they have been applied because he is accused of committing the crimes of Rape in the First Degree or Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree against multiple people. See Penal Law Section 130.95(2). Basically, Mr. Weinstein would be convicted of this charge if it is proven that he in fact sexually assaulted more than one of the complainants. (There are two Predatory Sexual Assault counts that presumably apply to different combinations of complainants in this matter).

These charges have an important practical effect on the case (notwithstanding these potential penalties). Specifically, in order to get convictions on these charges, the prosecutor would now have to prove at trial that Weinstein assaulted more than one of the three current complainants in the case. It might at first seem that the prosecutors have made their jobs more difficult by adding these charges, but in actuality, this new evidentiary necessity thwarts an anticipated defense strategy for trial severance.

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18 USC Section 2423

Federal criminal law prohibits a wide range of activities relating to transporting people and/or traveling across state lines or internationally for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual activity. Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 2423 prohibits four types of activities and carries very severe penalties.

First, 18 U.S.C. § 2423 makes it a felony punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison (and by as much as life in prison) to “knowingly transport[] an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce… with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” This provision obviously applies to those engaging in the human trafficking of underage prostitutes, and also potentially applies to an adult who drives or attempts to drive a minor across state lines so that he or she can have sex with that minor in another state. It could also apply to people who purchase bus or plane tickets for minors to travel into the U.S. or across state lines for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex.

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Understanding the Weinstein indictment and the next steps

According to numerous reports, Harvey Weinstein has been indicted on charges of Rape in the First Degree, Rape in the Third Degree, and Criminal Sexual Act in the First and Third Degrees. The first-degree charges are Class B violent felonies, meaning that they are punishable by a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 25 years in prison. Rape in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.35) applies to cases in which defendants allegedly use forcible compulsion (physical force or the threat of physical force or harm) to engage in non-consensual vaginal intercourse. Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.50) applies to cases in which the defendants have allegedly used forcible compulsion to non-consensually penetrate mouths or anuses with their penises. (Thus, the distinction between “Rape” and “Criminal Sexual Act” under New York criminal law is the orifice being penetrated.) The third-degree varieties of these charges most commonly are applied in situations where a person is “incapable of consent,” meaning physically helpless (i.e. asleep or intoxicated). These third-degree charges are Class E felonies without mandatory minimum prison sentences.

It should come as no surprise that Weinstein was indicted given that he was arrested and preliminarily charged with these same crimes. Indeed, an indictment by the grand jury was basically a sure thing once the decision to arrest Weinstein was made. Weinstein could have testified before the grand jury in his own defense but that would have been a tactical mistake. A grand jury presentation in a case like this normally involves a prosecutor simply calling the complainant to testify under oath before the grand jurors about the crime. A defendant being indicted (for any crime, not just rape and sexual assault) does not get to listen to the witnesses testifying against him in the grand jury, nor does his attorney have the right to cross-examine those witnesses or make arguments to the grand jury. However, by testifying before the grand jury, Weinstein would have subjected himself to being cross-examined by a prosecutor under oath. That decision would have locked him into a version of events that he could not later modify or correct for trial. Equally problematically, it would have given the prosecutor an opportunity to hear Weinstein’s trial testimony prior to trial. This would have afforded the prosecutor months (or maybe even years) to prepare a scathing cross-examination for trial after having a “practice round” with him in the grand jury. Given that the odds of prevailing at the grand jury are normally terrible for a defendant – and probably especially so for Weinstein given the publicity surrounding his situation – there was realistically very little for Weinstein to gain from testifying before the grand jury. Most defendants understandably decline to do so.

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The viability of the Paz de la Huerta rape case against Harvey Weinstein

Recently, numerous media outlets have published stories suggesting that the NYPD has built a “viable case” of rape against Harvey Weinstein based upon a complaint made by actress Paz de la Huerta. (Specifically, according to a recent Vanity Fair article, the actress claims that Harvey Weinstein raped her in her apartment on two occasions in 2010). Given that dozens of women – mostly Hollywood actresses – have now publicly complained of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, the public’s desire to see Weinstein punished is incredibly high. The Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, is deservedly under considerable pressure to bring Weinstein to justice. After all, his office made a basically indefensible decision to dismiss a strong sexual assault case against Weinstein based upon a timely and straightforward complaint by a victim which was corroborated by an audiotaped confession and a prompt outcry to a friend. This decision is especially ripe for criticism since Weinstein’s defense attorneys donated money to Vance’s re-election campaign.

However, bringing this new rape case against Weinstein may actually be far more difficult and problematic than this prior sexual assault case against Weinstein that the D.A.’s office chose not to prosecute. What follows is the objective and detached opinion of Matthew Galluzzo, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

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After an incredibly long period of deliberation – 52 hours – a Pennsylvania jury recently announced that it could not reach a unanimous decision regarding any of the criminal charges against Bill Cosby involving his alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand. The judge was forced to declare a mistrial and the prosecutor has already declared that their office intends to retry the case with a new jury. Of course, this now begs the questions: 1) what went wrong for the prosecution, and 2) what could they do differently to get a conviction? Matthew Galluzzo, a criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor, offers a few thoughts on the subject.

First and foremost, sex crimes cases involving acquaintances are among the most difficult cases in which to secure convictions. Some talking heads in the media seem to think that this case should have been an easy conviction but that presumption simply belies the reality of what happens in criminal court. These types of cases are inherently challenging for prosecutors for several reasons that were at issue here.

To begin, these “he said/she said” sexual assault cases depend enormously on the credibility of the accuser, and the defense attorneys did everything that they should have done as advocates for their client to raise doubts about Ms. Constand. First, they highlighted her inconsistent statements to law enforcement about the incident. Nothing torpedoes a sex crimes case faster than inconsistent reports from the accuser. After all, inconsistent statements also tend to be made more often by liars than by those telling the truth. Inconsistent statements by the complainant suggest that the complainant has little respect for the truth and thus cannot be trusted to tell it at trial under oath. They also tend to suggest that the complainant has a nefarious agenda that causes him or her to “tailor” her testimony to her audience be perceived more favorably or to increase his/her chances of success. Understandably, defense attorneys always pounce on evidence that suggests those things and they did in this case. Specifically, they argued (as they should have) that the complainant was an attention-seeking, money-grubbing liar who had attempted to minimize her prior contacts and relationship with Cosby when initially making her report to law enforcement in an obvious effort to be perceived more favorably by them. They further argued that she had had a consensual romantic relationship with Cosby and only made a report to police when she did not profit from the relationship in the way that she had hoped.

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A significant percentage of police reports and lawsuits alleging sexual abuse involve people accusing co-workers of having committed the offense. However, unlike complaints involving sexual abuse allegedly committed by strangers or acqutainances, these sorts of matters tend to take a more circuitous route through the court system (if they even arrive there at all). Individuals accused of sexually assault or harassing co-workers face a host of complicated issues, and need experienced attorneys wholly devoted to defending their interests and future.

Thorough investigation of these cases is the key to success. Individuals that allege that they have been assaulted or harassed by co-workers frequently (perhaps, typically) report the incident to management before they contact the police or plaintiffs' attorneys. One of the keys to defeating these allegations is by highlighting the inconsistencies in the reports. Accordingly, determining what exactly the accuser said to management – as well as to other co-workers – about the alleged incident can be crucial to undercutting the allegations later brought in a police complaint or lawsuit. Significant inconsistencies can be devastating to the complaining witness' credibility and must be uncovered as soon as possible.

Plaintiffs also oftentimes threaten to file police reports unless their civil settlement demands are met by the accused individuals or their employers. A skillful and trusted advocate may be able to pre-emptively undermine the credibility of such a plaintiff by communicating with the prosecutor after the criminal complaint has been made but before an arrest has been authorized. Matthew Galluzzo is a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor and understands some of the concerns and reservations that prosecutors sometimes have about civil plaintiffs in this arena, and has the respect of many prosecutors specializing in this area of investigation.

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Sexual assault charges and medical doctors/therapists

The attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP have significant experience defending a wide variety of professionals against criminal and civil accusations of rape and sexual abuse (Matthew Galluzzo, in particular, is a former sex crimes prosecutor in Manhattan with a long track record of success in defending against sex crimes cases). These sorts of allegations are devastating for anyone to endure, but they can be particularly consequential for medical doctors and mental health practitioners.

First, accusations of sexual abuse involving medical doctors can be press-worthy affairs. Recently, an emergency room doctor in New York City was sentenced to two years in prison for sexually abusing patients at his hospital, and his case received considerable media coverage. Needless to say, the media coverage has permanently destroyed his reputation.

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On June 15, after over thirty hours of deliberations and several requests for read back of testimony, the Cosby jury indicated that it was deadlocked. Matthew Galluzzo, a criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor, tweeted the night before that he expected the jury to hang (meaning, to be deadlocked). The judge told the jury to continue deliberating (this is called "giving an Allen charge") and denied a defense motion for a mistrial as being premature. However, Mr. Galluzzo expects the jury to be unable to reach a verdict.

In an American criminal case, the jury's decision as to a particular charge must be unanimous, meaning that all twelve jurors must agree as to the verdict (guilty or not guilty) for a specific charge. A jury can convict unanimously on some charges and acquit unanimously on other charges in the same trial (and that happens quite frequently). A jury indicates to the court and judge that it has reached a verdict by sending out a written note that they have reached a verdict, and the jury emerges to announce the verdict in the courtroom.

Sometimes, as is the case in Cosby's trial, a jury sends out a note indicating that the jury cannot agree as to a particular charge (or any charges). Typically, a judge will then tell the jury that they should continue to deliberate. There is a very specific text that judges are usually required to read back to their deadlocked juries, and this text is typically referred to as an "Allen charge" (based upon a Supreme Court case with that name). An Allen charge is meant to encourage the jury to continue to try to reach a unanimous verdict, and reminds the jurors of the importance of arriving at a conclusion in light of the interests of the parties and the time and resources already spent trying the case.

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G&A defense attorney Matthew Galluzzo recently earned a stunning trial acquittal in a federal sexual abuse case that had been extensively covered in the press. The client, charged with one count each of sexual abuse on an airplane (18 U.S.C. 2244(b)) and assault on an airplane (18 U.S.C. 113(a)(5)), went to trial in Brooklyn federal court (the Eastern District of New York) before Judge Pamela Chen. The jury deliberated about a day and acquitted the client of all charges, accepting his defense that his touching of the complainant had been an involuntary act committed while asleep. Five eyewitnesses testified for the prosecution.

If you or a loved one have been accused of a sex crime, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone. In particular, Matthew Galluzzo is a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor and widely recognized expert on the investigation, prosecution, and defense of rape and sexual assault charges.

Some articles about the case from the press: