Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) cases are very unique in the world of criminal charges. The majority of Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct charges are broken down into four basic categories:
Criminal sexual conduct 1st Degree, MCL 750.520b – up to LIFE in Prison
Criminal Sexual Conduct 2nd Degree, MCL 750.520c – up to 15 years in Prison
Criminal sexual conduct 3rd Degree, MCL 750.520d – up to 15 years in Prison
Criminal sexual conduct 4th Degree, MCL 750.520e – up to 2 years in Prison
There are also a host of other CSC related crimes, including: Assault With Intent to Commit Sexual Penetration, Assault With Intent to Commit Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Second Degree, Accosting, Enticing, or Soliciting a Child for Immoral Purposes, Gross Indecency, Child Sexually Abusive Material, and Indecent Exposure.
But no matter what degree or nature of the Michigan CSC charge a person is facing, one of the most common questions we receive as a CSC Defense Attorney is “Can I be convicted of CSC based only on hearsay?“
In our experience, when someone asks that question, what they are really asking is “Can I be convicted of CSC based only on an accusation alone with no other evidence?” Legally speaking, “hearsay” essentially means one person testifying to what another person allegedly said (“I heard Johnny say XYZ”). For someone claiming to be the victim of Criminal Sexual Conduct to simply testify to what they claim actually happened to them is not considered hearsay at all. That is considered direct evidence. So in this article, the question we are really answering his “Can I be convicted of CSC based only on an accusation alone with no other evidence?“
Naturally, if you are accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct, it seems completely unjust, unfair, and unreasonable that someone can’simply point their finger at you and say “he did it,” and now you’re facing a serious charge that could put you in Prison. We agree 100%. But the short and simple answer is “yes,” you absolutely can be convicted of a Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan based on an accuser’s testimony alone, with zero additional evidence. That means the government does not need to come forward with any DNA evidence, other scientific evidence, no “Rape Kit,” no medical examination, no video, no eyewitnesses, no text messages, no corroborating evidence, period.
As a matter of fact, this is actually true of just about any type of criminal charge. Think of a Domestic Violence charge where only the husband and wife are in the home. Think of an armed robbery case, where all the alleged victim is doing is essentially identifying the accused and claiming that they robbed them with no eyewitnesses present. But this aspect of law is unique in Criminal Sexual Conduct cases because in these cases, the Michigan Legislature actually passed a specific law to reiterate that fact, MCL 750.520h (“The testimony of a victim need not be corroborated in prosecutions under sections 520b to 520g.”). That law became effective in 1975. More recently, in a case called People v. Smith, 149 Mich App 189 (1986), the Michigan Court of Appeals reaffirmed that there need be no corroborating evidence to support the accusations in a Michigan CSC case.
As a result of these legal authorities, every time a person goes on trial in the State of Michigan for a Criminal Sexual Conduct allegation, the Judge reads standard Michigan Criminal Jury Instruction 20. 25, entitled “Testimony of the Victim Need Not be Corroborated,” to the jury:
Now, reading this jury instruction, you may feel hopeless. You may ask yourself “If all it takes to convict me as a person to say that I did it, how will I ever have a chance?” Well, that’s where the skills and advocacy of an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney come into play. Notice that the accusers testimony without other evidence is only enough to get you convicted “… If that testimony proves guilt beyond reasonable doubt.” That is actually an extremely high standard. A skilled Criminal Defense Attorney with experience in Michigan CSC cases is an expert at raising that doubt. Not every case can be won, but if that doubt can be created, you are legally entitled to a verdict of not guilty.
There are many CSC cases that do involve DNA evidence, eyewitnesses, scientific evidence, confessions, incriminating statements– things we call “corroborating” evidence. But the reality is, if they’ve got all of this other supposed evidence against you, that makes the case harder to defend, not easier. And the truth is, many Criminal Sexual Conduct cases are simply based on an accusation alone.
During jury selection, a skilled prosecutor will be certain to get every potential juror to commit to convict you even if they can’t produce supporting or “corroborating” evidence. The prosecutor will strike any juror that feels that this isn’t right – any juror who says they would demand corroborating evidence. For this reason, your Criminal Defense Attorney must know how to respond. When it is the defense’s turn to stand up and question the jury, your attorney must get a commitment that the verdict can only be guilty IF the accuser’s testimony proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors must understand that this means beyond and to the exclusion of each and every reasonable doubt. In other words, if each juror has just one doubt that is reasonable, they must find you not guilty. Your Criminal Defense Attorney must make the jury understand this, as well as appreciate how very high the burden of beyond a reasonable doubt is.
Obviously, there are many many aspects to properly defending a CSC charge. This article addresses but one of them. For more information, please visit our Michigan Sex Crimes Main Page, or click the link throughout this article to visit some of our other blog articles about Criminal Sexual Conduct.