News reports about sex crimes are shocking to the public, especially when they involve minors. Furthermore, people are outraged when they hear about priests who are accused of sexually abusing minors, and of the Catholic Church’s history of covering up these allegations.
With all that in mind, many people may read a story about a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse of a minor and decide that the man is guilty of a crime and should be swiftly punished. However, the foundation of our criminal justice system is the principle that everyone deserves a defense, and that everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Recently, an Indianapolis priest was arrested and charged with solicitation of a minor and other sex crimes after prosecutors say he sexually victimized a 14-year-old. Prosecutors said the priest and the victim communicated in a sexual way over social media and messaging apps. According to charging documents, the minor trusted the priest because he was an authority figure.
Prosecutors also note exchanges between the priest and the minor in which the priest speaks about the need for secrecy and expresses his belief that the messaging system he is using is secure. However, the evidence the prosecutors are using against the priest appears to come from his own account on the cloud. News reports did not say how prosecutors obtained this evidence.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits police from unreasonable searches and seizures. In keeping with this right, police generally must get a warrant before they can search a suspect’s property, although there are certain exceptions to this requirement. If none of the exceptions applies to a situation, a court may find that the police obtained the evidence unlawfully, and that therefore the evidence must be suppressed from trial. This can greatly weaken the prosecution’s case.