Interviewer: What if someone says that he said/she said thing that they touch them inappropriately? What could happen in a case like that? What are some of the defenses?
Tom Chaves: It depends on what the age of the victim is and it depends on where the person was touched or what the circumstances were. But in general, for those type of cases, if there’s no independent witnesses or other evidence which corroborates what the complaining person or victim states, then again, the case would be very defensible.
DNA Evidence Can Generally Be Obtained Through Hairs, Fibers or Bodily Fluids
Obviously, if there’s a sexual assault where there’s a claim that there’s a rape involved, there is generally a lot of forensic evidence either through DNA evidence, which can be found through hair and fibers, bodily fluids and through scrapings under people’s nails. I mean there’s different ways to determine a DNA analysis and there’s also, in the rape case, an examination which will take place when a qualified person, generally it’s a nurse who’s trained in this type of situation, who can then look at it and make a determination when there’s trauma.
The Forensic Evidence Determines If An Allegation is Substantiated or Not
In other words, an aggravated sexual assault which is what rape is called in the state of New Jersey will often turn on what the forensic evidence shows. Conversely, a much less serious offense of criminal sexual contact which involves an unwanted touching of some kind does not involve typically any kind of forensic or DNA evidence and is dependent largely on the complaining witness or victim’s statements about what occurred. And obviously, if there are any corroborating witnesses who say they witnessed what occurred, that could be very important as well. The more forensic evidence against an individual, the more difficult it is to defend any kind of sexual assault case.
Mostly the People Involved in a Sexual Assault Allegation are Familiar with Each Other
Interviewer: What if you have literally a “he said/she said” type scenario, what will happen?
Tom Chaves: In general terms, and that does come up very frequently especially in the sexual assault context because in general, most of the times the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator are people who know each other. So, it’s not a very common occurrence, although it does happen unfortunately, where a stranger will suffer a sexual assault by someone they don’t know.
It is Difficult to Prove Guilt or Innocence beyond a Reasonable Doubt when only Hearsay Evidence is Involved
However, in most cases it’s people who are acquainted with each other in some form or other and as a result of that, when it comes down to one person saying that something occurred and the person denying it or one person saying that it was against their consent or will and the other person saying that it was fully consensual. Those are very difficult cases for the prosecutor to win and/or much better cases for a defense lawyer to defend because the standard of proof in any criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. When you have just one person saying one thing and the other person saying the opposite or denying what the other person says and there’s no independent basis to corroborate either side, that really doesn’t reach the level of beyond reasonable doubt.
For Cases With No Conclusive Evidence, Prosecutors are Reluctant to Indict Or Prosecute Someone
Interviewer: In those kind of cases, Are they resolved or not?
Tom Chaves: In general, when a case is on those lines, prosecutors often are frequently hesitant to even indict or prosecute someone for that type of situation. So, it’s not really when it just boils down to one person’s word against the other person’s word with no independent other evidence of any kind either through witnesses who may have seen something or have relevant evidence or forensic evidence such as DNA and such as the other type of forensic evidence, if available, then in those cases, the prosecutor’s office’s generally don’t prosecute those kind of cases. So, it really doesn’t come up that often where a case will be just a he said/she said type case.