Philadelphia Eagles football player Josh Sills was recently indicted by a grand jury and arrested for allegedly raping and kidnapping a woman in Ohio in December 2019. The team immediately suspended him; otherwise, Mr. Sills would have suited up for the Super Bowl in two weeks.
The case presents several interesting questions. First, the investigation was uncommonly lengthy. Law enforcement spokespeople explained that “The crime was immediately reported, and the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office conducted a detailed investigation.” That detailed investigation evidently took over three years to complete, for some reason. This is not the typical length of a rape investigation; indeed, it is an extraordinarily long time to investigate a rape accusation. A few things might have been going on during that three year time period.
First, there might have been DNA to analyze. Not every rape investigation involves DNA evidence, and DNA does not necessarily prove that a rape occurred at all, anyway (as DNA evidence could also indicate a consensual sexual encounter). Generally speaking, though, DNA analyses do not normally take more than a few months to process – it depends entirely on the state laboratory’s backlog.
Law enforcement might have made several attempts to record Mr. Sills making an admission. Oftentimes, after a complainant reports a sexual assault, the complainant wears a police-issued wire and confronts the suspect in person and tries to get him to confess to his crime. On other occasions, they call the suspect on the phone while sitting with police officers who are listening and recording the conversation. These “controlled calls” are done in the hopes of eliciting an incriminating apology, generally. These types of investigative techniques are not violative of suspects’ constitutional rights because the suspects are not in custody. It is unknown whether this happened in Mr. Sills’ case, but it is a common police tactic in these types of investigations.
Law enforcement probably invited Mr. Sills to speak with them with the assistance of his attorney. This is not uncommon for police or prosecutors to do during the course of a sex crimes investigation. In New York City, for example, detectives from the Special Victims Unit have been known to visit the apartments of suspects or call them to say that there has been a complaint and that they would like to “hear their side of the story”. Only idiots would agree to such an interview without consulting with an attorney, of course. Prosecutors in the city have also been known to call suspects and politely suggest that they retain attorneys to speak to them about complaints.
It is unclear from the articles about Mr. Sills’ case whether he “proffered,” or spoke with law enforcement, about the allegations. Certainly, though, that process could have added significant time to the investigation.
In any case, the matter ultimately made its way to a grand jury about three years after the fact. A grand jury is a group of 23 people selected from the community at random (much like trial juries) who sit in a private chamber and hear testimony from witnesses under oath about various criminal cases. Prosecutors present the evidence and respond to questions from the grand jurors. There are no judges inside the chamber, and there are no defendants or defense attorneys. Defendants do typically have the right to testify in their own defense, should they so choose, but they are not otherwise permitted to observe or participate in the proceeding. If a majority of the grand jury believes that there is reasonable cause to believe that a crime has occurred – a much lesser standard of proof than proof beyond a reasonable doubt – then a person becomes indicted, or formally charged with a crime (typically a felony). So, in Mr. Sills’ case, we can safely assume that the complainant testified in the grand jury and was sufficiently convincing to persuade the grand jury to formally charge and arrest Mr. Sills.
The author of this article, Matthew Galluzzo, is a criminal defense attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s Office.