Physical Evidence and Witness Recantations

This week in Cook county court, Villalobos & Associates successfully defended a client who was charged with 12 counts of criminal sexual assault. Criminal sexual assault charges are extremely serious and can result in long prison sentences depending on the details.  Because of the age of the complaining witness and the client’s relationship to the complaining witness, our client was facing consecutive sentences for each count ranging from 1 to 15 years in prison.  Adding up the charges and possible sentences, our client was facing up to life in prison.

The charges were based on statements that the victim gave to police officers and hospital staff detailing sexual abuse that supposedly took place over several years.  Hospital staff performed an examination and produced a detailed report of the examination.

Villalobos & Associates examined all the evidence and called the complaining witness and her mother in to our office to discuss the allegations and evidence.  When confronted with the medical reports that tended to negate some of the more serious allegations, the complaining witness admitted that she made them all up because she wanted DCFS to remove the defendant from her home because he was too strict and threatened to take away her cellphone.  After explaining this, she wrote down her recantation and signed it.

At trial, the only witness the state called was the complaining witness. On direct examination by the state, she admitted that she gave the detailed statements to police but that none of it ever happened.  Despite the recantation, the state was still able to introduce the complaining witness’s original statement as substantive evidence because it was a prior inconsistent statement.  This meant that the trial court could view the conflicting statements on equal footing and determine which one it thought was more truthful considering the credibility of the witness while testifying on the stand and all the circumstances surrounding the prior statement.  In short, the judge could believe that the complaining witness felt pressured to recant her accusations and changed her story because it was the easiest way to make the whole situation just go away.  Indeed, this was one of the prosecutor’s main arguments.

Knowing this, Villalobos & Associates successfully tied the medical records to the witness’s recantation, demonstrating that the records did not corroborate the complaining witness’s accusations.  In the end, the judge found that the recantation and trial testimony effectively cancelled each other out so the medical records were the key piece of evidence.  Because they did not support the initial accusations and led the witness to recant, the judge found our client not guilty on all charges.

This case was just shows some of the issues that can come up in sexual assault or abuse cases.  Read more about these cases and other common issues including how Illinois’ Rape Shield law prevent defendants from introducing evidence concerning a victim’s prior sexual conduct or reputation.