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Felony sex charges against fraternity brothers dismissed

A sex crime charge in Maryland has long-term consequences requiring law enforcement to comply with procedural rules and constitutional protections. This was apparent in a recent sexual assault case.

Two former fraternity brothers from the College of Charleston, were arrested in early September on allegations that they engaged in a criminal sexual encounter with a 17-year-old that was spawned by drug use. The charges were filed after clear images from one of the defendant's cell phone emerged.

The defendant who owned the cell phone was jailed for two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. The other defendant was incarcerated for engaging a child in sexual performance. However, police received evidence test results in May. Additional charges of second-degree assault and battery where then filed against the cell phone owner, and the other defendant was charged with a sexual conduct count.

In May, a magistrate dismissed a felony charge against this other defendant. The lead police investigator did not attend and testify at a preliminary hearing in May to determine whether police had probable cause for the arrest.

Law enforcement officials admitted that the detective's failure to show at this hearing did not affect the ultimate resolution of the case against this defendant. The detective did not record the date in his calendar.

The police nonetheless requested that prosecutors seek an indictment for third-degree sexual assault. Prosecutors, however, reassessed the case and the evidence that was favorable to the defendant and ultimately decided not to obtain an indictment. A separate charge is still pending against this other defendant.

The defendant who owned the cell phone was also charged with assault. Before his scheduled preliminary hearing, however, prosecutors agreed not to proceed with this charge which was then dismissed. The sexual exploitation charges were already withdrawn in return for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor voyeurism charge.

However, legal complications also arose over this charge. This defendant was never informed during his plea hearing that he had to be in the sex offender registry. A judge, accordingly overturned this conviction one month later. He then pled guilty to the lesser misdemeanor offense of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He received a sentence of one year probation and was permitted to return to Maryland.

A defendant's rights are diminished by the severity or notoriety of sexual assault charges. They should seek prompt legal representation to help assure these rights are protected.

Source: The Post and Courier, "Two felony charges dismissed for ex-College of Charleston fraternity brothers in sex case," Andrew Knapp, June 29, 2017

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