Long Island Firefighter in Jail After Alleged Tryst with Underage Girl
Police arrested 33-year-old Thomas Hinrichs and charged him with multiple sex crimes. According to investigators, Hinrichs met a 16-year-old girl online and had relations with her.
The Rocky Point Fire Department said that Hinrichs had only been on the job three months when the meeting came to light and he was suspended. He remains in jail in lieu of $25,000 bond as police search for more potential victims.
Legal Issues in Sex Crime Cases
When you read the headline for this blog, your stomach probably turned. Prosecutors count on that kind of reaction in these kinds of cases, especially from jurors. Such emotional responses obfuscate the fact that there are times that an accused is not guilty. And a criminal defense lawyer’s job involves representing those guilty and not guilty- or not guilty of the highest crime charged.
If the alleged victim is underage, consent is never a defense. Consent is also not a defense in other similar cases, such as an adult and a mentally challenged person or a prison guard and a prisoner. Consent is also not a defense if the alleged victim was incapacitated, a rather vague word which could mean physically restrained or could mean incredibly intoxicated.
Special circumstances sexual assaults are also strict liability crimes. Mistaken age is not a defense. Even if the alleged victim lied about his or her age, it’s still not a defense. However, a legitimate mistake about age could be relevant during sentencing.
Online sex crimes present some unique legal issues, particularly with regard to the defendant’s conduct and law enforcement conduct.
Legally, a sex act is not an element of most sex crimes. In many cases, prosecutors can obtain convictions if the defendant took substantial steps toward the commission of a crime. There is a lot of grey area here. Leaving your house to meet an alleged victim probably is not sufficient preparation. Physical contact, on the other end of the spectrum, is definitely enough. Everything else is somewhere in the middle.
Furthermore, online sex crimes almost always involve search warrants. These warrants must be based on probable cause, which often comes from a paid informer. Such information is only reliable if:
- The informant had a good track record, or at least did not have a bad track record,
- There is some corroborating evidence, and
- The informant did not have a personal bias against the defendant.
Other reliability factors may apply as well, since the Supreme Court allows judges to consider the totality of the circumstances in these situations.
Getting Off the Sex Offender Registry in New York
Sex crimes also have significant indirect consequences. Many times, the registration requirement is worse than the actual penalties. Like many other jurisdictions, New York has a three-tier registration system:
- Level One: Low risk offenders, typically people who are convicted of indecent exposure and other sex crime misdemeanors, are usually Level One offenders, especially if they have no criminal record. These offenders must register, but the data is not publicly available.
- Level Two: Most offenders are in this category. The registration record is publicly available. Furthermore, Level Two offenders face significant residency, employment, and other restrictions.
- Level Three: This category is bad news. In addition to all the Level Two requirements, high-risk offenders must also update their address every ninety days. They must also be photographed every year, as opposed to once every three years for Level Two registrants.
New York law gives offenders the right to petition for reclassification once a year. Such petitions are often successful, especially if the registrant has a favorable psychological evaluation and has had two or three incident-free years. Additionally, registrants may petition to have their names removed altogether after thirty years. That’s a long time, but eventually, this waiting period expires.