Being accused of a sex crime, particularly one involving a child, can irrevocably damage your reputation and, perhaps more important, place you in substantial legal jeopardy. The experience is embarrassing, overwhelming and frightening—but you can’t let it intimidate you, or prevent you from seeking the legal assistance you need to fight back and protect your rights.
The Cautionary Tale of Tracey Alan Laabs
That’s the situation in which Tracey Alan Laabs found himself in June 2013. Laabs’ ex-girlfriend had asked him to babysit her 6-year old daughter in her Faribault home, and he agreed. She later told police that, when she returned, she noticed her daughter touching herself inappropriately. When questioned, the girl told the same officers that Laabs had touched her “down there.”
Laabs, when questioned by the police, acknowledged that he had watched the child that day, and that he might have inadvertently touched her while helping her put on her clothes in the bathroom. Those scant facts were sufficient for Laabs to be charged with a sex crime.
In the trial, Assistant Rice County Attorney, Julie Germann, attempted to persuade the jury that the now 8-year old child’s testimony was credible, though experts agree that children of this age can be easily manipulated, and that a woman no longer on friendly terms with her ex-boyfriend might well be motivated to encourage false testimony. Germann, after the trial’s conclusion, seemed to acknowledge as much in her statement to reporters:
“The alleged victim was 6 at the time that it was reported and 8 when she testified in court. They are difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt because you’re dealing with a child’s memory and a lack of physical evidence.”
Laabs’ defense attorney, Erica Sutherland, masterfully argued that those very facts—the lack of physical evidence and unreliability of the child’s testimony—were more dispositive of innocence than guilt. The jury agreed, and Laabs was acquitted. Following the verdict, Sutherland also spoke with reporters:
“Being accused of sexually abusing a child is the worst possible crime any man can be accused of. Mr. Laabs is innocent of these terrible charges and he can finally move forward with his life. My heart goes out to the child, who clearly has some challenges.”
What Are the Laws Governing Sexual Assault in Minnesota?
Minnesota law (as detailed in Minnesota Statues 609.342) combines rape and sexual assault into the broad category, “criminal sexual conduct.” The statute is divided into five degrees of criminal sexual conduct, the penalties for which vary according to the nature of the alleged sexual activity and the age of the victim. Following are descriptions of those five degrees, along with associated penalties:
First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct
First degree criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota involves sexual penetration (either oral, vaginal or anal) of anyone, or sexual contact with a victim under the age of 13— “sexual contact” means intentionally touching the victim’s bare genitals or anus with sexual or aggressive intent. When the victim is under 13, the defendant must be at least 3 years older than the victim. If the victim is 13 to 16 years of age, the defendant must be 4 years older and in a position of authority. The penalties for first degree criminal sexual conduct are severe: a maximum of 30 years in prison and a fine of $40,000. The mandatory minimum sentence is at least 12 years in prison.
This is a less serious offense. It involves engaging in sexual contact such as intentionally touching the victim’s intimate parts by coercion, including touching over clothes. The maximum sentence is 25 years in prison and a fine of $35,000. The minimum sentence is generally 7.5 years in prison.
Third degree criminal sexual conduct involves sexual penetration with a victim under 13, but in cases in which the defendant is no more than 2 years older. In other words, if penetration occurs with a 13-year old, it would be first degree conduct if the defendant is 17, but third degree if the defendant is 15. The maximum penalty is 15 years imprisonment and a $30,000 fine. The maximum is reduced to 5 years if the victim is 13 to 15 and the defendant 2 to 4 years older.
This is similar to third degree, with the difference that no penetration is involved. The penalties for fourth degree include up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $20,000.
Fifth degree criminal sexual conduct occurs when the defendant has “nonconsensual sexual contact” with the victim, including attempting to remove the victim’s clothing covering intimate parts if done with sexual or aggressive intent, or masturbating or exposing the defendant’s genitals in the presence of a child under the age of 16. Fifth degree criminal sexual conduct is generally treated as a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. If the defendant has a prior conviction, however, it could be a felony leading to as much as 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $14,000.
If you are facing felony charges—for criminal sexual conduct, DWI/DUI, drug crimes, theft crimes, or anything else—you need to work with an accomplished criminal defense attorney with deep knowledge of Minnesota criminal law and a record of helping defendants win their cases. Matthew Martin is that kind of criminal defense attorney—highly respected by peers and clients, and a vigorous defender of defendants’ rights. To learn more about our criminal defense services, or to schedule a free case evaluation, contact us today.