Being charged with any offence can be extremely distressing, especially if you know you aren’t guilty.
The stigma of being charged with a sexual offence like indecent assault can make the experience even more upsetting and stressful.
If you have been wrongly charged with indecent assault, the first thing you should do is seek experienced legal advice so that you can give yourself the best chance of winning the case and avoid being convicted.
It is certainly possible for a good criminal lawyer to defend an indecent assault charge by getting the charges withdrawn or thrown out of court.
In a recent case, a man is suing NSW police for mental anguish, distress and stress after he was wrongly imprisoned on false charges of sexual assault.
Unfortunately, people do wrongly accuse others of sexual offences and the negative stigma can be extremely damaging even though you are ultimately vindicated.
If you are found guilty of indecent assault, as well as having to serve a potential jail term, you will be given a criminal conviction, which may mean that you will be restricted in the future, especially if you want to travel or emigrate to another country.
You may also be unable to work in certain occupations and may not be allowed to hold a firearms licence.
Even if you don’t believe you have a case to answer, it’s important that you take any charges against you seriously if you want to avoid long-term repercussions.
What is indecent assault?
In order to be able to fight the charges against you it’s important that you understand them.
Indecent assault is a criminal offence under Section 61L of the Crimes Act 1900.
Under this legislation it is an offence to assault another person and at the time of the offence or immediately before or after, to commit an act of indecency.
Indecent assault comes with a maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment in the local court and five years’ imprisonment if dealt with in the district court.
How can I defend myself against an indecent assault charge?
If you have been wrongly charged with a sexual offence like indecent assault, you should always plead not guilty in court.
Once you have pleaded not guilty, the court will make an order that police must provide you with all of the statements and other materials against you within a specific time-period, usually 6 weeks.
The case will ultimately proceed to a defended hearing, where your lawyer and the prosecution will be able to present evidence and arguments.
The magistrate will then make a decision as to whether or not to uphold the charges, or to find you not guilty.
If the prosecution wishes to take your case to the district court, it will eventually end up at a trial before a judge and jury.
Getting an experienced lawyer early-on is important because they may be able to prevent a case from going all the way to a defended hearing (local court) or jury trial (district court).
A good lawyer will be able to go through the police case and find weaknesses.
They may also be able to identify any defences that you have.
They can advise the prosecution that their case is unlikely to succeed and formally request withdrawal.
A well-respected lawyer will often be able to get indecent assault cases dropped in this way, especially if they put the prosecution on notice that the defence will be making an application for legal costs if the case still goes ahead and is thrown out of court.
If the prosecution still proceeds, a good lawyer will thoroughly prepare for you hearing or trial by obtaining favourable evidence, such as statements from witnesses that support your version of the events, character witnesses, expert evidence, telephone records and/or CCTV footage that may assist.
An allegation of indecent assault can be defended in a number of ways depending on the circumstances.
Sexual offences often rely on one person’s word over another’s, so it can be difficult for the prosecution to prove the case against you beyond reasonable doubt.
There is also a lot of confusion around what can be classed as ‘indecency’ as it depends on what a ‘reasonable person’ would consider indecent and often takes into account the community attitudes and standards of the time.
Will I be able to get bail?
The bail laws in NSW have recently been changed to assess bail applicants on the basis of individual risk, rather than using the previous system of presumptions, which depended on the offence type.
Whether or not you will be granted bail will depend on whether you have a previous history of offending, whether you are considered to be a risk to the community or to any witnesses, and if it is considered likely that you won’t turn up to your court date, as well as a number of other factors.
If police refuse to grant you bail at the police station, you will be brought before a court as soon as practicable, which will normally be on the same day or the next morning.
Your lawyer can then make a bail application on your behalf in court.
Indecent assault is considered to be on the lower end of the scale for sexual offences, so there is a good chance that your bail application will be successful if you have no previous convictions and are willing to accept bail conditions such as not associating with the complainant and reporting to the police station on a weekly basis.
Unfortunately the stigma of being falsely accused of a sex offence can last even after your case has been dropped or thrown out of court.
False accusations do happen and finding a criminal defence lawyer who is experienced in dealing with sexual offences can make a big difference to your chances of avoiding a guilty verdict and a criminal conviction.