The Special Assault and Child Abuse Unit (SACA) handles crimes committed against the most vulnerable of victims: children and the elderly. These victims are the least likely to be able to stop crimes from being committed against them, report crimes to law enforcement, and have the support that they need to get through the legal process. All of the attorneys and support staff in this unit have both a desire and a commitment to help the victims survive the crimes committed against them and empower them to be involved in the process of punishing the perpetrator of the crime.
Since the legal process can at times be difficult for a victim or family member to understand, below is a description of the basic steps to be taken in most SACA cases.
Child Sexual Abuse Cases
Child sexual abuse cases can be reported to law enforcement by a child’s parent, teacher, doctor, counselor, other interested adult, or by the child. Certain professions, such as a teacher or counselor, are mandated by law to report whenever they suspect child sexual abuse.
The initial report to law enforcement can be to the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, the Sacramento Police Department, Citrus Heights Police Department, Folsom Police Department, Elk Grove Police Department, or the Galt Police Department. Almost all of these agencies have specially trained detectives to investigate sexual assault cases.
In cases where the suspect lives in the same home as the child, Child Protective Services (CPS) will open a case on the family, and will take appropriate action to make sure the child is protected from future abuse.
After the report to the detectives, they will start gathering evidence. An appointment is made for the child to go to the Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) for a forensic interview by a trained child counselor, to ensure that all the information that is needed to protect the child and prosecute the case had been obtained. The MDIC center and CPS are both run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Depending on when the report is made to law enforcement, the child may be taken for an acute sexual exam at Sutter Memorial Hospital. Or, if the details of past sexual assault warrant a medical examination, the detective will set up an appointment for the child at Sutter Memorial. This special unit is located away from the hospital and staffed with specially trained doctors, physicians assistants, and nurses to ensure a comfortable exam will be performed with the least amount of trauma to the child victim.
Often a suspect is arrested, either at the scene or by an arrest warrant obtained later. At this point, the District Attorneys Office reviews the evidence and files the charges. Then an attorney from the SACA unit, and a victim-witness advocate are appointed to the case. The victim or the victim’s family does not have to attend any hearing unless subpoenaed. The first hearing is an arraignment where the charges are read and bail is set. A preliminary hearing is subsequently set, where the detective will testify to what the victim and witnesses have previously said. Then a trial is set. If a case goes to trial, the victim and witnesses will be called to testify. If a victim testifies in a case, both the attorney and the advocate will be present to help the child in the courtroom. By law, a child victim can have a support person present in the courtroom if he/she desires.
After trial and conviction, the case is sent to the Sacramento County Probation Department for a pre-sentence report. A sentencing hearing is set after the trial. At sentencing, the victim and family members are allowed to make a victim impact statement to the court before the judge sentences the perpetrator.
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