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Child abuse defense (California)- advice on specific case re: if the attorney is doing the right thing

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I have some questions about the following case - see description and specific questions below. 


“Bob” is a green card holder that has been charged with multiple charges of child sexual abuse after a single incident with a single victim. He was arrested and has remained in custody due to inability to pay bail. He was appointed a private pro-bono attorney due to his inability to pay for one. The case is located in California. So far, the trial is still in the preliminary hearing phase.


Bob’s family is having a very difficult time understanding the legal process due to a language barrier and little legal knowledge/experience. They have many questions that the attorney has apparently not been helpful in answering, perhaps because of his legal obligation of confidentiality to Bob, his client.


The family has been able to review one forensic analysis report that indicates that DNA was found on the victim, and Bob “could not be excluded” as the contributor. The family does not understand what this means – does it mean he is more than likely guilty, or that a jury would certainly find him guilty based on this evidence? Or is there a reasonable possibility that the DNA could have come from someone else? There is reason to suspect that the accuser (the mother of the victim) might be accusing Bob out of spite – she is notoriously unstable, mentally ill, and she and Bob had a tumultuous relationship. There is also suspicion that she may have been unfaithful during the time of the abuse, and had other men around the children that could be alternate suspects.


It appears that the attorney is encouraging Bob to take a plea deal for one of the charges, which would carry a 15-year sentence (the attorney indicates that a conviction at trial could yield a life sentence due to the severity of the charges). Bob maintains his innocence and refuses to agree to the plea deal. It is not clear if the attorney is pursuing any alternate theories of the crime that might prove Bob’s innocence. The family is also concerned about the ramifications of the charges on Bob’s immigration status, and does not know if the current attorney is considering how a plea deal might impact his immigration status down the line.


The family wants to believe that Bob is innocent, but has not been able to review the whole discovery packet (which the attorney refuses to share) and therefore is not sure what to think. The writer of this description wonders if the advice to take the plea deal means that the DNA evidence is certain enough to yield a conviction. Nevertheless, the family is concerned that the attorney is not doing a good job, and they are considering hiring another attorney. This would put the family in considerable debt.


Recognizing that it might be difficult if not impossible for anyone here to comment with certainty about the case without knowing more specific information, here are the questions I’d like to pose to anyone reading:


  1. Basically, what should/can the family do in this situation? Should the attorney be doing more to help them understand what is going on with the case, or is he restricted from doing so due to his legal obligation of confidentiality?
  2. Is there a way that the family can access the full discovery packet, so that they can consider ALL of the evidence before making the decision about potentially hiring a new lawyer?
  3. How can the family interpret the DNA evidence which shows that Bob “cannot be excluded” as the contributor? The probabilities listed with the DNA evidence have been removed from this description for confidentiality purposes.  Is there a resource that could help the family determine the degree of certainty of the DNA match, or how it would be interpreted by a jury? Can/should the lawyer help the family interpret that information (ie. how certain is a conviction with this evidence?)
  4. Other than hiring a new attorney, what other steps might the family take to help the situation? Could they offer to hire a private investigator, a paralegal, or another consultant to help the current attorney? Could/should the family hire an immigration lawyer to collaborate with the current attorney to help her with the immigration consequences of the charges/any convictions?
  5. Should the current attorney be taking steps to build a defense that suggests alternate theories of the crime?
  6. If DNA evidence corroborates one of the charges but not the others, what is the likelihood that a jury would extrapolate the evidence and convict on all counts?
  7. Could the family get a second opinion from another attorney in the area (either through a free consultation or a reasonable fee) – to help them determine whether or not the current attorney is acting in Bob’s best interest?
  8. What would they need to do to get a second opinion – could the second attorney gain access to the necessary documents to give them a better understanding of what is actually going on?
  9. Could hiring their own attorney help the family in communicating with Bob’s attorney? Would it actually be recommended for the family to hire their own attorney to help answer the above questions? Is this something that an attorney would do, and how much might it cost to hire them as a legal consultant as opposed to hiring them as an actual attorney for Bob?


Thank you in advance for any advice/perspective you are able to provide. We are desperate for some clarity about what we can/should do in this situation.

Edited by Strawberry2018

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The defendant's attorney is limited in what they can discuss with the family and he/she can't share the discovery and would be foolish to do so even if he/she could.  DNA results are statistical.  If he can't be excluded that means there's a high likelihood it's his DNA and yes, a jury can convict based upon that.  At a trial the victim would have to testify and with children, juries are very likely to believe them.  That's just the way it is.  The attorney has a staff and doesn't need outside assistance.  They can do more harm than good.  The family just needs to be patient.  Being before prelim, there's a long road ahead.  There aren't many "alternate theories" that are plausible with DNA present.  Lastly, the family should NOT be discussing the case with the defendant.  Visits and phone calls at the jail are all monitored and recorded and all letters are screened and copied.

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