Articles Posted in Rape and Sex Crimes

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Following her conviction at trial in the Southern District of New York for various federal charges relating to the sex trafficking of minors, disgraced Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell received a sentence of 20 years in prison. She will get credit towards that sentence for the time she has already spent in prison, and assuming she receives the maximum amount of good time credit for her behavior in custody, she will probably only serve about 85% of that sentence, or 17 years.

The question on everyone’s mind has been whether Ms. Maxwell will finally disclose the names of the other purportedly rich and powerful celebrities who engaged in illicit conduct with minors and Jeffrey Epstein. Ms. Maxwell has steadfastly refused to do that, even after Epstein’s death (to the surprise of some). Ms. Maxwell initially denied being knowingly involved in any criminal conduct, and her statement at sentencing was hardly an apology, either.

Ms. Maxwell may also have a legitimate ground for an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. After the verdict, a juror disclosed that they had not told the Court during jury selection about having been a victim of a sexual assault. Judge Nathan (the trial judge) denied a motion for a new trial on that basis, and Maxwell will almost certainly pursue that argument on appeal.

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After a long trial followed by over forty hours of jury deliberations, Ghislaine Maxwell finally stands convicted of several federal charges relating to the sexual abuse of minors. Ms. Maxwell somewhat curiously chose not to testify in her own defense, and she now faces a sentence of up to 65 years in federal prison. Ms. Maxwell’s fight is far from over, but ultimately it will almost certainly lead to one final choice: cooperate with the government or die in prison.

After a federal conviction – by guilty plea or by jury verdict – the defendant is interviewed by a specialized officer from the U.S. Department of Probation. These officers typically have backgrounds in social work, and it is their responsibility to prepare a biography – or presentence report – for the court. The judge uses this presentence report at sentencing to understand the defendant’s life, background, and circumstances. (The Bureau of Prisons also uses this report in determining the defendant’s prison designation.) The preparation of a report can easily take two months or more, as the interview has to be scheduled, a draft report prepared, edits and objections made by both the defense and the prosecution, and a final draft with a sentencing recommendation submitted to the sentencing court.

Following the preparation of the presentence report, both the prosecution and defense prepare sentencing memoranda for the judge. Both sides make arguments about the proper application of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the sentencing factors pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Defense lawyers usually submit character letters from friends and family of the defendant, and sometimes the defendant also submits his/her own letter of remorse. Eventually, the sentencing court then holds a sentencing hearing at which both sides make oral arguments about the sentence and the court pronounces its decision. That sentencing hearing could be anywhere from 4 to 6 months after the conviction, though it could take even longer.

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It was recently announced by the New York Attorney General’s Office that disgraced former New York governor Andrew Cuomo would be criminally prosecuted for an alleged groping of a female staffer at the governor’s mansion in Albany. 

Specifically, Cuomo will be charged with one count of Forcible Touching, in violation of Penal Law Section 130.52.* That code makes it a class A misdemeanor to intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose:

1. forcibly touch the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire;  or
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The Department of Education recently released new policies and procedures for American colleges and universities to follow in investigating allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment involving its students. Generally speaking, the new policies afford more protections for accused students than were required under the Obama-era Title IX policies, and victims’ rights advocates are already decrying the changes.

The biggest changes in the policy involve 1) granting accused students the right to cross-examine and confront their accusers (though not personally), 2) establishing that the standard of proof for a finding of guilt may be either “clear and convincing” or a “preponderance of the evidence,” (matching civil law standards, generally) , and 3) and redefining the meaning of “sexual harassment” to align with the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition: “sexual harassment” is unwelcome conduct that is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access.” (Under the Obama administration, sexual harassment was more broadly defined as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”)

These changes will have a huge impact on Title IX sexual harassment/assault proceedings on college campuses. Previously, in connection with complaints of sexual assault to school administrators, student/complainants would give their version of events (one way or another) during an investigation and/or hearing, and the accused would have the ability to give his/her version of events. However, there would be no confronting of the witnesses by the adverse parties. Moreover, the standard of proof was so low, the administrators so risk-averse and generally sympathetic to victims, and the elements of an actionable offense were so broad that successfully defending against these accusations was exceptionally difficult. As a practical matter, accused students generally lost and were disciplined or expelled. However, many students complained that the trials were akin to the Salem witch trials, with no due process and no real chance to win. Indeed, lawsuits were filed by accused students in federal courts across the country, and so many of them persuaded courts that they had been denied due process during Title IX investigations that these changes by the current administration may have been an inevitable response to the litigation.

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Harvey Weinstein was recently convicted by a jury of two of the five charges contained in a Manhattan indictment (Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree and Rape in the Third Degree). He will be sentenced on March 11 by the presiding judge at trial, James Burke. Weinstein faces a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a possible maximum sentence of 29 years. One can reasonably expect Weinstein to receive a sentence in the 10-15 year range, though it could be higher. We doubt he will receive a single-digit sentence, though, even in light of his advanced age and ill health.

Weinstein has a right to a direct appeal to the appellate court, in this case called the Appellate Division, First Department, based upon issues that were raised “on the record” (i.e. issues which can be pointed to in the trial transcript). The deadlines for filing and responding to an appeal are typically somewhat flexible in actual practice, as both sides routinely ask for and are awarded extensions of time to file their appellate arguments and responses. Given the complexity of this case, a reasonable estimate is that the appellate court will arrive at a decision about a year after sentencing, though it could potentially be sooner if the defense team submits their arguments quickly.

If Weinstein were to win his appeal, then he would earn a new trial on the two charges for which he was convicted. (He can never be convicted of or retried on the predatory sexual assault charges for which he was acquitted at trial.) If Weinstein loses his appeal, he could ask the Court of Appeals (the highest court in the New York State system) to hear his next appeal – this process is called “seeking leave” to appeal. Unlike the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals is not required to hear his appeal. Typically, the Court of Appeals chooses to only consider cases with novel legal issues or cases of great importance, or cases involving issues about which lower courts in the state have disagreed. Theoretically, if the Court of Appeals denies leave, then Weinstein could seek the remedy called a writ of habeas corpus in state court, and then even pursue that type of appeal in federal court. This process of “exhausting” his appeals could potentially take several years.

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Today, Judge Steven O’Neill (who presided over Cosby’s recent sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania), sentenced Cosby to a sentence of 3-10 years in prison. The court had previously classified him as a sexually violent predator following a prior hearing. The court defended this decision by explaining that although the evidence of Cosby’s guilt had been “overwhelming,” including his own civil deposition, Cosby had refused to acknowledge his guilt or express any remorse for his actions. His attorneys had requested a sentence of house arrest, citing Cosby’s poor health and functional blindness, but the court did not agree. Cosby plans to appeal his conviction and sentence, and could conceivably stay free on bail until his appeals are resolved, though the court may deny the request that he be free pending his appeal.

This sentence is near the top end of the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines for Cosby. Indeed, the guidelines recommended a sentence of between 22 and 36 months, and Cosby essentially got a sentence of 36 to 120 months. This case illustrates a few issues, probably, as it relates to sentencing. First, remaining defiant in the face of sentencing may feel good to a defendant, but judges hate it. The best way to get leniency is to show remorse and ask forgiveness, and the opposite is absolutely true as well. Cosby may think he is going to be vindicated on appeal, but frankly, I would bet a lot of money that he will not. So, copping an attitude like he did throughout the post-conviction and sentencing phase almost certainly did nothing but cost him a few of his precious remaining years of life in jail. Any smart defendant knows that even if he feels like he was wrongly convicted, the best thing to do at sentencing is say you’re sorry to the judge and victim. Cosby does not appear to be a smart defendant.

Second, judges are human, and this case might demonstrate that. Although he is not supposed to the evidence of Cosby’s prior alleged misdeeds and sexual assaults of other victims (some of whom testified at Cosby’s trial in support of Andrea Constand’s complaint), the judge probably factored those things into consideration in concluding that he was a sexually violent predator worthy of serious detention. It would have been understandably difficult for the judge to ignore those other purported complainants, not to mention the dozens of others who have publicly come forward.

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Last week, the criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo persuaded the prosecutors at the Brooklyn DA.’s office to dismiss serious Rape in the First Degree charges levied against our client. Matthew Galluzzo, a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor, carefully presented to the prosecutors his client’s version of events along with evidence of the complainant’s repeated lies and motive to fabricate the allegation. The prosecutors were convinced of our client’s innocence and dismissed the charges. Our client, a foreign student earning a graduate degree in the U.S. with an F1 visa, was thus able to obtain his OPT extension after the dismissal of the charges. He is now elated to be finishing his studies and finding work in America.

If you or a loved one have been accused of rape or sexual assault, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo. Matthew Galluzzo, in particular, is a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor and nationally-recognized expert on sex crimes investigations whose opinion on pending cases has been solicited by radio, television, and print news sources around the world.

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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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