Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of a three-part series regarding sex offenders.
CHENANGO COUNTY – District Attorney Joseph A. McBride discussed the different factors involved in prosecuting sex offender cases.
“Sex offender cases are very different than most other cases,” said McBride. “A lot of witnesses are very young and are not able to communicate that effectively.”
“I am only allowed to present cases, by law, that I know I can prove. Despite the fact I know deep down in my heart that a person was molested, I can't go forward with the prosecution unless I have the evidence to prove it beyond a responsible doubt,” he added.
McBride said when older children are victims of sex abuse, the cases can be even more difficult. Even if he believes the victim, he said jurors are often unable to resolve the conflict between the victim and the alleged sex offender if the defendant has a good story.
“Sex cases are very, very difficult,” said McBride. “I can only prosecute. I can't fix every wrong in society.”
The longtime DA said he has gone to trial on cases he thought were “very good,” the victim testified under oath and was challenged by the entire system.
“I've been there when people have told a very credible story, the defendant still got a ‘not guilty’ verdict. The devastation that those victims have sometimes felt is as bad or worse than the underlying crime to begin with,” said McBride.
He said he knows victims whose lives have fallen apart for testifying in cases where they had been allegedly attacked and assaulted.
“I have to make a judgment call whether or not there is enough proof, because a jury will decide based on the evidence. Many people think those who sexually abuse children should be put away forever, but that's not always possible,” said McBride.
McBride said a major factor involved in many sex offense cases is how much time has passed since the sex crime has occurred. In approximately the last 15 years, the legislature has extended the statute of limitations for prosecution of sex crimes against children.
“A reason for increasing the statute of limitations is that many of the cases were not being disclosed to law enforcement until after the child had grown up and had the strength to communicate what was done to them much earlier in their life,” said McBride.
He said it is difficult to hold defendants accountable for the actions they have committed in the distant past, and he said it is also very difficult to get the proof that people expect to see in the courtroom for incidents that occurred many years ago.
“In order to protect the children from reliving the traumatic experience and make sure a defendant is held accountable for what he did, many sex offense cases are resolved with agreements between the prosecution and defense,” said McBride.