Being accused of a crime you haven’t committed can be devastating. Unfortunately, several wrongly convicted individuals are just now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after years behind bars. Falsified claims are a serious threat and this issue is quickly becoming recognized by mainstream media. In particular, false allegations involving child sexual abuse or child abuse can wreak havoc to family relations and cause lingering stress. Recently thousands of untested DNA rape and sexual abuse kits were sent to a third party crime lab for testing after decades collecting dust in Harris County evidence rooms. Fortunately, a few cases have already been turned over after DNA evidence proved their innocence.
A false allegation of child sexual abuse rarely originates with the child. Many studies show that false allegations originate with an adult filing accusations on behalf of the child, and a large majority often occur in the context of divorce or child custody battles. A lot of these allegations are perpetrated for a number of reasons; revenge, rejection, cover ups, etc. False reports that occur in custody disputes involve one adult coercively questioning a child, believing that abuse has occurred if if the child maintains they were not abused.
Take the case of Daryl Kelly Sr., for example. Accused in 1997 on charges of child sexual abuse by his daughter, he was charged with multiple counts of rape solely on the word of his accuser despite no physical evidence. Fifteen years later, his daughter admitted that she had been coerced by her mother to lie against her father. Too young to understand her actions, she was forced to claim that her father raped her under the threat of punishment from her mother. Daryl Kelly Sr, a Navy veteran with a reputation of being honest and hardworking, refused a plea deal and denied the allegations, was sentenced to 20 to 40 years. The false accusation sent him to prison where he still remains. Now, his daughter is fighting to get him released, but every appeal has been denied.
A similar case of false allegation came up last year, when Cassandra Kelly admitted that she had falsely accused her father of child sexual abuse because she was upset about her parents’ divorce. Her father was sent to prison in 2001 and was finally exonerated earlier this year. Cassandra Kelly decided to reveal the truth that sent her father to jail because her guilt prompted her.
Another such case is Sheldon Mosley, a 29-year-old man accused of sexually molesting his 4-year-old daughter. Mosley was at the time battling with his mother-in-law for custody rights over the girl. Physical examination of the girl did not substantiate the sexual assault claims, all tests were negative. However, the girl responded positively to all suggestive questions and a counselor assigned to her believed that Mosley had sexually assaulted the girl. Mosley was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Mosley’s lawyer was later found to have been inadequate but the judge ruled that this had no bearing on the outcome of the case. Finally, after years of appeals and petitions, the then 21-year-old victim recanted her statement that she had been molested. She admitted that her grandmother had coerced her into accusing her father with promises of rewards and trips.
These cases represent a few examples of false conviction with very little to no corroborating evidence. There may be untold numbers of innocent people who are currently imprisoned due to false allegations. Numerous cases have been overturned due to latent DNA testing.
After a conviction, an individual can file an appeal post-conviction. A post-conviction writ of habeas corpus is a wrongly convicted person’s chance to dispute the finding of their trial because of improper evidence handling, legal misconduct, and new evidence the court has not yet seen.
Just earlier this year in Houston, Texas, a backlog of previously untested DNA evidence have identified offenders in at least a third of the cases. The backlog includes 6,600 sexual assault kits that have been residing in a back room in the the Houston Police Department that have been handed over to two respected forensic laboratories. The new DNA testing helped in solving numerous cases and vindicating victims, and may one day exonerate others.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations there are many factors that contribute to false imprisonment. These factors include mistaken witness identification, perjury or false accusation, false confession, false forensic evidence and official misconduct. The chart below includes data for 305 wrongful convictions, which represents a small fraction of all wrongful convictions. The pie-graph focuses on wrongful convictions that were exonerated because of false accusations. Unfortunately, child sex abuse wrongful conviction due to false accusation stands at the top.
Once convicted of child sexual abuse, it can many times take years to get exonerated even if the victim recants. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, the vast majority of false convictions never result in exoneration.
Therefore, the most important thing one can do if they are falsely accused of sexual crime, especially against a child, is to seek experienced legal counsel. The fallout of a false conviction can take years, even decades to reverse, and only with latent DNA testing or recantation.