Being charged with a sex crime is a frightening and humiliating experience for most defendants. Even the mere allegation has the power to forever change someone’s life. Not only is prison time almost a given in most cases, but there are additional punishments such as being labeled a sex offender and being compelled to register under the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) and the public scorn that goes along with it. Not only are sex crimes unique with its “dual punishment” but the courtroom procedures are specifically altered as well. These are known as “special accommodations.”
Screenings or Shielding
In some cases, the court may allow the complaining witness (“victim”) to be shielded from the defendant while testifying. This could be accomplished by simply having the defendant and prosecutor switch tables so the witness is not direct in view of the defendant, or it could involve placing a barrier in between the witness and the defendant, such as a chalkboard. However, the defendant must still be able to see and hear the witness and be able to communicate with his attorney. Sometimes the court may exclude all unnecessary persons from the courtroom.
The court will base its decision on a number of factors “necessary to protect the welfare of the witness.” The court takes into consideration the age of the witness and the nature of the offense. If the witness and/or the witness’s family or guardian desire to have the witness testify in a room closed to the public, the court will be taken into consideration. Often these occur when the complaining witness is a child or minor. At trial, the same accommodations can be given in addition to the attorneys being ordered to stand at the podium infront of the witness stand to ask questions of all witnesses.
According to MCL 600.2163a(9)(a)-(c), the judge must consider these factors on the record when making his decision. The prosecutor must give notice to the defendant that they are seeking to use a shield or screening so the defendant has an opportunity to object. However, such objections usually fall on deaf ears as caselaw supports these special accommodations although they can be highly prejudicial by suggesting to the jury that the defendant is someone to be feared and the witness is right to be fearful of him. It elevates the rights of a witness above the Constitutional rights of the defendant.
The prosecution may also seek to allow a support person to accompany the complaining witness when testifying. Under MCL 600.2163a(4) and MCL 712A.17b(4), a child or developmentally disabled witness must be permitted to have a support person with them or be in close proximity to the witness while testifying. This applies to all stages of proceedings, not just trial. The prosecutor must serve a Notice of Intent upon the defendant and all other parties stating the name of the support person and their relationship to the witness. The support person is just to comfort the witness by their presence; they are not allowed to coach the witness or speak to them while they are testifying. The court and defense counsel should be cognizant of the potential for unduly suggestive nonverbal communication between the support person and the witness.
Michigan Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer
Being charged with a sex crime can have a devastating impact on your life and the lives of those around you. Even if you are just being investigated, you need legal representation. Never, ever agree to talk to the police, CPS, or take a polygraph without first consulting with a lawyer. If you are facing criminal sexual conduct (csc) charges, call Austin Legal Services, PLC today at (517) 614-1983 to speak to a Michigan CSC defense lawyer.
Defending sex crimes, CSC charges, and SORA violations throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Gratiot, Livingston, Jackson, Shiawassee, Washtenaw, Kent, Barry in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, St. Johns, Ithaca, Brighton, Howell, Jackson, Corunna, Durand, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Hastings.