Officials: Child molestation cases are complicated
Officials said there hasn’t been an explosion of child molestation cases in Polk County, but handling the ones that do occur is a long, tedious process.
Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd said his office has investigated 64 reported child molestation cases since 2011. Detectives have cleared 34 of those with an arrest, Dodd said.
“The rest were unfounded or we could not prove that it actually occurred,” Dodd said.
Cedartown Police Chief Jamie Newsome said his department investigated six cases in 2011; 11 cases in 2012; eight cases in 2013 and only two cases so far this year.
Rockmart Police Chief Keith Sorrells said his city hasn’t had a child molestation case in several years.
Dodd said there are times when someone is accused of child molestation in a custody battle or some other familyrelated disputes, but an investigation will eventually bear that out.
Polk County District Attorney Jack Browning said the justice system is set up to proceed cautiously because of the damage an unfounded accusation can cause. He said no criminal case comes to his office without a police investigation indicating probable cause and taking out a warrant.
Browning said most cases are pretty strong before his office gets it.
“Most of the time, we’re going to find ourselves indicting a case rather than dismissing it,” he said.
An ongoing investigation continues in his office while prosecutors are preparing for grand jury and court hearings, he said.
Browning said he will not prosecute a case if further investigation reveals evidence that the person is falsely accused. He said he defended some in court when he worked in the public defender’s office and taking those cases to trial is a waste of time and resources.
“If I don’t think I have a case, I’m not going to prosecute a case,” he said.
Browning said his office tried only a few child molestation cases last year but some are still working their way through the system. He said most child molestation cases will go to trial because of the strict mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Someone convicted of aggravated child molestation will be sentenced to 25 years to life, he said. That makes a plea agreement nonnegotiable, he said.
“That case is going to trial. No one is going to plea to 25 years,” Browning said.
The district attorney said taking a child molestation case to trial is challenging because usually there is very little physical evidence.
“Your strongest evidence is the statements of the child,” Browning said.
The situation can become the child’s word against that of an adult and, many times, those statements are encircled by family drama that can convolute actual facts, he said.
Browning said there is also a process for any conflict- of- interest he or any other attorney in his office many have in criminal cases. Since he worked as a public defender, he said there could be a case he would have to step away from. In those cases, Browning said he would follow protocol and notify the state Attorney General’s Office of a conflict and that office would appoint an outside prosecutor.