Oregon Cases Involving Alleged Child Sex Abuse Require Strong Evidence
A recent trial in Multnomah County Circuit Court illustrates how the approach to evidence has evolved in Oregon sex abuse cases. These cases are part of a national trend.
In the Multnomah County case, a father was found not guilty of charges that he sexually abused his 10-year-old daughter. The judge acquitted the defendant of sex abuse because she had reasonable doubt about his guilt, based in part on the testimony of the man's accuser. He was found guilty of other charges.
The judge's ruling reflects changes to the law that have made the testimony of alleged victims more important in sex abuse cases.
Crawford v. Washington
The confrontation clause of our Constitution's Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to confront their accusers. In practice, this means that a defendant should be allowed to cross-examine, in court, the person who is accusing the defendant.
In the past, it was possible for a person accused of child sex abuse to be convicted with testimony from doctors, social workers or police officers - but not the alleged victim. These professionals would tell the court what the child told them.
This changed with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2004 Crawford v. Washington decision. It clarifies when a witness must be available in court. In the recent Oregon case, this meant that the girl accusing her father of sexual abuse needed to testify in court. In this case, the girl's testimony appeared to leave the judge with reasonable doubt.
The Oregon Supreme Court made rulings in 2009 and 2010 that can make it more difficult to call a child-abuse expert to the stand during trial.
For instance, in the 2009 Oregon v. Southard decision, the Oregon Supreme Court held that a diagnosis of sexual abuse is inadmissible when it does not provide the jury with information that the jury could not have deduced on its own.
For People Accused of Sexual Abuse
Even though the ground has shifted in ways that could be perceived to favor defendants in sex abuse cases, the law is strict and the punishments are severe; the legal system treats accused sex offenders very seriously.
If you have been accused of sex abuse, it is of vital importance to speak with an experienced Oregon criminal defenseattorney right away.