CSC Defense - Can Dreams Lead to False Claims of Sexual Assault?

Criminal Sexual Conduct charges in Michigan can arise under the most unusual circumstances. Distinguishing properly between the guilty and the innocent is the essential function of our jury system. Believe it or not, a charge of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC for short) is often based on an accusation alone – one person‘s word against another’s.

This creates real challenges for Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Judges, and Juries when it comes to that essential function of truth seeking; studies show that people simply lack the ability to tell whether another is lying or telling the truth; we aren't good lie detectors. Even real lie detectors (polygraphs) are inadmissible at trial because they still haven't not been shown to have the level of scientific reliability required by the Rule of Evidence. At Prain Law, PLLC, your Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Defense Attorney, we are dedicated to concentrating our practice on these unique issues raised in Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct cases.

But can something as flimsy as a dream unjustly put an innocent person behind bars, even for the rest of their life, for Criminal Sexual Conduct?

The unfortunate answer is, "yes." If the person making the accusation of Criminal Sexual Conduct had a sexual dream and comes to believe it happened in real life, they can be very convincing. Studies on memory show that once a person has come to believe that a false event actually happened, their memory can become irreversibly altered. Memory is not exact, and it is a constructive process - it may include true and/or "implanted" events. When a person believes something actually occurred, even if it didn't, others generally will perceive them to be more credible. Within the study of memory in the field of psychology, there is a concept known as “source monitoring.“ Source monitoring deals with a persons ability to accurately identify where something stored in their memory originated from, i.e. a true event versus some other input. “Source monitoring error“ occurs in when, as a result of suggestion or some other factor, a person develops a false idea of where a memory originated from, including mistaking an event that did not happen for reality. And dreams can be the cause of a source monitoring error...

Understand that this is separate and distinct from the issue of whether a person is intentionally and maliciously lying, which we in the legal system call “credibility." In a Criminal Sexual Conduct trial, only the jury may determine credibility. No witness, lay or expert, may offer an overall opinion about whether a person is deliberately lying or telling the truth.

Rather, issues such as source monitoring error and suggestibility explore something different than credibility – a concept known as “reliability.“ That is to say, there are certain influences on a person's memory and other circumstances that could lead a person to believe that something like a Sexual Assault happened to them when nothing happened at all. The person might have “credibility“ in the sense that they are not deliberately and maliciously lying. However, their claim of Sexual Assault, and the Criminal Sexual Conduct charges that follow may have a lack of “reliability“ because fo the context they arose in.

A false allegation of CSC may be the product of both deliberate lying and source monitoring error at the same time. For example, an adolescent deliberately lies and claims that her mother’s boyfriend touched her sexually for any number of reasons. Naturally, in addition to gong to Police, her mother may prompt extended discussions filled with suggestive influences, such as expressions of bias or hatred toward the accused, or highly suggestive questions about whether or not she "remembers XYZ happening" when it did not. Over time, this can cause even an adolescent to come to believe that XYZ happened, even though XYZ wasn't part of their original story. By the time they speak to a child forensic interviewer at a Child Advocacy Center (CAC), such as Kids Talk in Wayne County or CARE House in Macomb and Oakland Counties, the story is not only a lie, but a lie on steroids.

RELATED: Click here to learn about Criminal Sexual Conduct in Wayne County, Michigan.

RELATED: Click here to learn about Criminal Sexual Conduct in Oakland County, Michigan.

It's important to note that these concepts are not just something made up, there have been extensive studies conducted on this phenomenon, and much of the research is in agreement that these types of false claims of Sexual Assault do in fact happen. Studies have been designed where children witness an actual event, and were then told things by authority figures that were not part of the event they witnessed. Yet despite their falsity, the mere suggestion that the child witnessed XYZ, or felt someone touch them in a certain place, was enough to cause them to believe it actually happened, and afterwards, to relay the false information when retelling the story. Because they believe it happened, the child comes off as believable.
Dreams could produce these same suggestive influences as deliberate statements by a distraught, angry parent or authority figure, or from peers. As Freud would agree, dreams are abstract reflections of feelings, thoughts, and perceptions of real life mixed in with all types of other information. All day long, we Americans are bombarded with thought-provoking imagery based on sex and sexuality. Combine this with the developing brain and sexual proclivities of an adolescent person, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for very realistic sexual dreams. Compared to other types of studies, it is obviously more difficult to study dreams. This is because, although we can monitor brain activity during a dream, it may be impossible to force a person to have a particular dream about a particular topic.

Nevertheless, there have been certain studies conducted to determine whether events occurring during a dream might be confused with real life events that actually happened. In short, the studies have concluded that to varying degrees depending on circumstances, it is indeed possible. In-fact, there appear to be no scientific studies suggesting that this is not possible. In fact, it may be highly possible. These and other psychological issues can be addressed in Criminal Sexual Conduct trials by appealing to the common sense and everyday knowledge of jurors, sometimes bolstered with the testimony of a qualified expert witness.

It’s easy to see how a dream could lead to a charge of Second Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, MCL 750.520c, or Fourth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, MCL 750.520e, because those charges are simply based on "sexual contact." But what about First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, MCL 750.520b and Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, MCL 750.520d, which both involve actual "sexual penetration"? Nobody is going to dream that they’ve been penetrated and think it really happened, right? Wouldn't there be physical evidence either way? But when we realize that under the Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct laws, the definition of “sexual penetration“ includes much more than what the average person thinks of as "penetration." When a claim of CSC is subject to emotions, suggestive influences, and repeated conversations retellings, research shows that it is very possible to produce an evolution of successive false claims.

THE BOTTOM-LINE IS THIS:

If you or someone you know is facing a charge of Criminal Sexual Conduct, or have been accused of any other Sex Crimes under circumstances that suggest the accuser may have merely dreamt about the event, then the argument needs to be advanced, and the matter needs to be addressed. Don’t let someone’s dream turn into your nightmare. At PrainLaw, PLLC, we specifically concentrate on defending those falsely accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct.

Michigan CSC Defense Lawyer Brian J. Prain of Prain Law, PLLC has been named one of D Business Magazine's Top Lawyers, 2019 and 2020, one of the 19 Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Detroit by Expertise.com, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Michigan by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys, one of the Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers in Michigan by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been featured in Super Lawyers, HOUR Detroit Magazine, Crain's Detroit Business, and more.,

Contact Prain Law, PLLC, your Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Attorney, at (248) 731-4543, or via e-mail using our Contact Form.
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