Jury selection began last week in the high-profile case of Jeffrey Epstein’s ex-girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been charged with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy.
The prosecution has charged that Maxwell took part in enticing, grooming, and transporting underage girls for criminal sexual activity throughout the mid-1990s to 2004. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Trial by Jury Guaranteed Under the Sixth Amendment
Anyone charged with a crime in the United States is guaranteed the right to a trial by jury by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Juries are selected by a process called “voir dire” which means “to speak the truth.” During voir dire, both the judge and attorneys on both sides have the ability to ask the prospective jurors questions to determine if they are suitable for that particular case.
So far, approximately 750 people have been asked to fill out a 51-question questionnaire to begin to determine their suitability as jurors in this case. Oral questioning begins mid-month.
The prospective jurors were asked if they had developed their own opinions about Maxwell’s guilt or innocence based on what they had heard or read about the case. They were also asked whether sexually suggestive information that emerges at trial could make it difficult for them to be impartial, and whether they or a family member had ever had personal experience supporting or protesting for or against laws relating to sex trafficking, sexual abuse or harassment, or sex crimes against minors.
Common Defenses Used in Sex Crime Cases
In any criminal case, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, there are some common defenses utilized in a sex crimes case.
The defense of innocence relies on proving that the defendant did not commit the crime, either presenting an alibi or suggesting that the accuser misidentified the defendant, misremembered the incident, or is outright lying. Another common defense is that the sexual act was consensual.
Because there is little way to provide direct proof of consent, the defense will often use the accuser’s past sexual history as a way to show that they could have given consent to the sexual activities. Another less-utilized defense is an insanity or mental incapacity defense.
What Potential Defenses Will Be Used in the Maxwell Case?
According to recent reports, Maxwell’s defense team may use several defenses to suggest her innocence. In a letter drafted by her attorneys, one defense will be the possible faulty memory of her accusers, bringing in expert witnesses in memory and psychiatry to testify in her defense.
One of these experts, Elizabeth Loftus, has testified in over 300 trials, including other high-profile defendants such as Ted Bundy, OJ Simpson, and Harvey Weinstein. Ms. Loftus will present scientific research concluding the unreliability of memory and that false memories can seem as real as actual memories. She is a common witness in matters of memory and sex crimes.
Another witness the defense is considering is forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz who has been part of more than 1,000 sexual abuse evaluations. His testimony would hinge on grooming and that building the trust of the accusers did not automatically constitute grooming. He is also expected to argue that there is no consistent definition of grooming. Dietz has been an expert witness in other high-profile trials, including “unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, John Hinckley, Jr., and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Criminal Legal Defense
We expect the Maxwell trial will play out in the courtroom of public opinion as well as the legal courtroom. While it will take many more weeks to complete jury selection and for Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial to get underway, it will be interesting from a legal perspective to watch how the trial plays out and what information is unearthed and used by both sides.
Regardless of what happens with this high-profile case, there are many individuals charged with sex crimes who will never see this kind of notoriety, yet be affected for the rest of his or her life. Sex offense convictions require mandatory sex offender registration, which allows friends, neighbors, employers, and colleagues to find out about it. In short, a convicted sex offender is usually marked for life.
If you have been accused of a sex crime in Brooklyn, you deserve a skilled criminal defense attorney to aggressively advocate for you. Contact the criminal defense team at Bukh Law Firm for a free case evaluation and to ensure that your legal rights are being served.