You might think that no one would dare to falsely accuse someone of such a horrendous thing. You might assume that a child couldn’t lie about something like that — or that a child wouldn’t have enough information to lie. And even they did, the judge or jury wouldn’t convict.
Unfortunately, the truth is that people get wrongfully convicted of sex offenses against children far more often than you might expect. One of the reasons is that people believe people don’t make false accusations. Another is that even the accusation carries such stigma that the defendant is at a disadvantage from the start. Bias plays a role.
Exaggerated scientific claims, invalid forensic techniques and inaccurate DNA testing are also major contributors, as the Innocence Project reports. No doubt a combination of factors was at play in the trial of “the San Antonio Four,” who were recently exonerated thanks to the Innocence Project of Texas.
The San Antonio Four, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez, were convicted of two counts each of indecency with a child and two counts each of aggravated sexual assault of a child after being accused in 1994. Their accusers were Elizabeth Ramirez’s nieces, then 7 and 9, who were visiting their aunt.
According to the recent review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the two girls’ stories didn’t match and changed over time — plus they were implausible and somewhat fantastical. They weren’t typical of children’s statements in similar cases.
At the trial, the prosecution brought in an expert witness to testify about the significance of a hymenal scar. That doctor later admitted that her conclusions were inaccurate, having been based on now-invalidated science.
Calling the prosecution case “exceedingly weak,” the court ruled that the four women had “unquestionably established their claim that no jury could rationally find them guilty.”
“Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime,” the opinion reads. “They are innocent. And they are exonerated.”
False accusations of sex crimes, including those involving children, do happen. When they do, the consequences to the defendant can be life-altering and lifelong.