Sex crimes are so reviled by the public and carry such a social stigma that it doesn’t take long for an unfounded accusation to spiral out of control, especially when the alleged victims are children. When public anger reaches a boiling point, the criminal justice system is in danger of becoming little more than a witch hunt.

That’s why it is especially important to sort out facts from feelings in these cases. In Wisconsin as elsewhere, accused individuals are innocent until proven guilty. As one recent high-profile case reveals, it can sometimes be very difficult to determine whether or not a sex crime has actually been committed.

Late last month, a football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato was arrested for possession of child pornography. The evidence against him allegedly includes videos taken with his cell phone of his three young children laughing and playing. In two of the videos, the children are nude.

The videos were apparently discovered by an IT professional for the university after the coach brought in his cell phone because it had been malfunctioning. The videos were subsequently turned over to police.

Recently, the defendant’s wife held a press conference denouncing the charges against her husband as “ridiculous and baseless.” She was already aware of the videos, and said that they are in no way intended to be pornographic.

Rather, they are family videos of her children having fun. She added: “My family does what every family does — we take videos and pictures of our kids in all their craziness. I am confident that when all of the facts are known, these videos will be understood as innocent videos of typical kids being silly.”

Individuals convicted of possessing child pornography can face years or even decades in prison. Upon release, the may be publically scorned as a pedophile or child sex offender for the rest of their lives.

But this case shows that definition of “child pornography” can be debatable as it applies to specific evidence. Considering the potential consequences, it is extremely important for prosecutors to proceed conscientiously and for defendants to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: StarTribune.com, “Coach’s wife: Porn charges ‘baseless’,” Richard Meryhew, Aug. 28, 2012

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