Sexual Offences

Defending Against Sexual Assault Charges

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
photo of lab technician examining a sample representing DNA testing in sexual assault cases

In the realm of criminal law, few accusations carry the weight and gravity of sexual assault charges. The mere allegation of sexual misconduct can result in irreparable damage to reputations, careers, and personal relationships. For those facing such allegations, navigating the legal complexities and societal stigma can be overwhelming and uncertain.

Given the significant consequences that can accompany such charges, it is imperative to recognize that defending against sexual assault charges demands a nuanced and strategic approach. Each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances, evidence, and legal considerations.

This blog post will delve into the intricacies of defending against sexual assault charges in Ontario, shedding light on the legal landscape and various defence strategies utilized to preserve the rights of an accused.

Understanding the Legal Framework of Sexual Assault Charges

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a criminal offence defined under section 271 of the Canadian Criminal Code as an offence that encompasses a broad range of unwanted and non-consensual sexual activities, from unwanted touching to violent sexual acts. However, the acts do not need to be violent in order to be considered an assault. Sexual assault cases can be incredibly complex due to the unique rules surrounding evidence in such cases, which have evolved to protect complainants, including forensic evidence and DNA testing.

If you are convicted of sexual assault, you may face serious and life-altering consequences, including being named on a sex offender registry, which can impact employment opportunities and interpersonal relationships.

What is Historic Sexual Assault?

In Canada, indictable offences are not subject to a Statute of Limitations. In other words, even if a sexual assault occurred over 20 years ago, you may still be charged and convicted of the offence. As such, historic sexual assault refers to any sexual assault that may have occurred in the past. These cases can be complicated given the need to relive events that occurred several years prior.

Proving and Defending Against Sexual Assault Charges

The burden of proof rests squarely on the prosecution’s shoulders in cases of sexual assault. To secure a conviction, the Crown must prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This high standard underscores the importance of a robust defence strategy to challenge the prosecution’s evidence and cast doubt on their case. In many cases, the complainant’s testimony and credibility can be key factors in the ultimate outcome, particularly where this is the only evidence supporting the charge. This becomes more pertinent in cases of historic sexual assault given the difficulties obtaining physical evidence years after the alleged incident occurred. However, forensic evidence (such as hair samples or clothing fibres), videos and photographs, and additional witness testimony may also be presented in support of the charge.

Understanding Defence Strategies

It is important to work with an experienced criminal defence lawyer who is familiar with this nuanced and complex area of law and can help you develop a strategic defence. It is important to understand the options and resources available to you in order to successfully defend against sexual assault charges and make informed decisions throughout the process. Sexual assault trials can be particularly straining and complicated, given the extensive evidence, testimony, and expert reports required, and the ultimately uncertain outcome.

When it comes to a defence, determining whether or not the alleged act occurred, and whether it was consensual, are key issues. Consent is described in the Criminal Code as the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question. It is not uncommon for an accused to admit that the sexual activity in question took place, however, if the defendant can establish a reasonable doubt that the complainant consented to the act, this can help create a solid defence. This, however, can be incredibly challenging to prove, if not impossible. It is also important to note that being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs is not a defence for mistakenly believing that the complainant consented to the sexual act.

Effective defence against sexual assault charges requires a multi-faceted approach tailored to the specifics of each case. Often, defence strategies will involve:

  • challenging the credibility of the complainant and their testimony by probing inconsistencies in a complainant’s statements;
  • highlighting potential motives for fabrication (such as a failed relationship or resentment against the accused), or
  • uncovering evidence of prior false accusations against other individuals.

A sound defence may also scrutinize the reliability of certain physical evidence in order to cast a doubt on its relevance or authenticity. Further, supporting witness testimony, alibis, and expert opinions can play a pivotal role in deconstructing the prosecution’s case and establishing a reasonable doubt.

Key Takeaways for Individuals Facing Charges of Sexual Assault

Even if you are not convicted, facing charges of sexual assault can have incredibly impactful and far-reaching consequences on your mental and physical health, relationships, and employment. Therefore, working with a knowledgeable criminal defence lawyer who can explain how the law applies to your circumstances and help you navigate the nuances involved when defending against such charges is important. Beyond crafting effective defence strategies, criminal defence lawyers zealously advocate for the protection of their clients’ rights throughout the legal process in order to ensure due process, safeguarding against wrongful convictions, and protecting against violations of constitutional rights.

Contact Barrison Law for Legal Advice and Representation in Cases Involving Sexual Assault Charges

The trusted criminal defence lawyers at Barrison Law help clients navigate the unknowns when it comes to defending against sexual assault charges in Ontario. Whatever the nature of your charges, our experienced lawyers are ready to help. Our office is conveniently located across the street from the Durham Consolidated Courthouse and we represent clients throughout Pickering, Whitby and Ajax. To speak with one of our criminal defence lawyers regarding your case, call our office at 905-404-1947 or reach out to us online.