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Sexual Assault Case Proven Not Guilty

“They are never going to believe you over the accusations of the child.”

Those words were spoken to our client, FL, by his wife, MC, during a “controlled call” which was being recorded and monitored by Westchester County detectives, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and Child Protective Services. Those words proved to be prophetic. From the moment FL’s step-daughter, MD, entered the police station with her mother, allegations of serious and prolonged sexual abuse were leveled against FL. Though unsubstantiated by any physical evidence, the ensuing investigation persisted for several months. Eventually, the Assistant District Attorney indicted FL on numerous counts, the most severe being Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the First Degree (a “B” Felony) and Course of Sexual Conduct Against a Child in the Second Degree (a “D” Felony).

In addition to the criminal charges, FL was also dragged into Family Court where he faced petitions alleging the same sexual abuse filed by the County Attorney’s Office. Temporary Orders of Protection were issued barring him from his home.

The allegations were stunning and included a period of abuse starting in 2010 and continuing up until January, 2016. The accusations ranged from “touching” to actual sexual intercourse. Additionally, it was alleged that FL infected his step-daughter, MD, with the sexually transmitted disease of chlamydia and would threaten his step-daughter after every event in order to keep the abuse a secret.

At trial, the prosecution called three expert witnesses to educate the jury about chlamydia, “Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome” and the physical examinations and treatment for the child.

Dr. Margaret Hammerschlag, a preeminent expert on chlamydia, detailed how chlamydia is tested, treated and spread. Anne Meltzer, Psy.D, explained the psychological effects of sexual abuse on children and offered explanations for the child’s behavior both before and after her disclosure of alleged abuse. Dr. Jennifer Cantor, who heads the Children’s Advocacy Center in Valhalla, NY, explained the various treatment provided and laboratory tests conducted on behalf of the child.

The prosecution also called the child, MD, and her mother, MC, as witnesses against FL. Both related their experiences and observation during the period of alleged abuse. The testimony of MD was particularly lengthy and detailed the type and frequency of the alleged sexual abuse and contact.

On its face, the accusations were horrifying and the charged crimes were incredibly serious. If found guilty, FL faced possible decades of incarceration and a lifetime on the sex offense registry.

Fortunately for FL, his defense attorney, Stephen Riebling of Riebling, Proto & Sachs, LLP, took the time to investigate the allegations and analyze the evidence. This approach raised a number of questions regarding the factual allegations and led to the discovery of exonerating materials in his wife’s medical records.

After each witness testified for the prosecution, the defense used the information it discovered to conduct a withering cross examination that exposed numerous inconsistencies in the “stories” told by FL’s wife, MC, and his step-daughter, MD. Among those inconsistencies was the allegation that FL would abuse his step-daughter when his wife went to work three days a week throughout 2015, a fact that both mother and daughter recounted in detail. However, what neither mother nor daughter knew was that defense counsel, Stephen Riebling, had obtained the sworn deposition testimony that the mother had given only three months before during her divorce action. There, while recalling her financial information, she testified that she did not work in 2015. Mr. Riebling also produced MC’s tax returns for 2015 which revealed that she was not employed during that year and did not declare any income as a result. This prior testimony exposed that a major part of the claims made by both the wife and step-daughter could not have occurred.

In addition, Mr. Riebling revealed to the jury that the child had changed her version of events substantively each and every time she was asked to recall the details. After a lengthy cross examination, MD admitted that direct testimony, wherein she described events in exacting detail, was “very much different” than any of her previous sworn statements. She also recanted any claim of sexual intercourse, a stunning admission and a major blow to yet another crucial claim in the prosecution’s case.

As for the expert testimony, the defense focused on the shear lack of evidence which connected FL to the accusation that he infected his step-daughter with chlamydia. In fact, details and test results found in various medical records actually helped to exonerate FL on that issue. To that point, Dr. Hammerschlag acknowledged that she never reviewed those crucial medical records, though they were available through the prosecutor’s office, and as such could not offer any opinions about what those records showed. Additionally, Dr. Meltzer acknowledged that she had not met the child nor reviewed critical records about the child. As such, she was unable to say whether MD was actually a victim of any abuse.

After a lengthy deliberation, which involved read backs of relevant testimony and review of exhibits in evidence, the jury delivered justice for FL and returned a verdict finding “Not Guilty” of all counts.

When it comes to cases involving allegations of sexual abuse, it is important to remember that there are instances where those allegations are fabricated and motivated by other factors, including money or animosity. Due to the nature of these types of cases, the claims of innocence and actions of the accused are often overlooked or ignored. The rush to judge in these circumstances must be balanced by the principles of our criminal justice system where the presumption of innocence must be maintained. In this case, FL was fortunate enough to have a criminal defense attorney who fought to make sure that his rights were protected and that the law was followed.

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