Teachers Accused of Sex Crimes Should Heed the Advice of California Attorney Kenneth L. Schreiber

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With the recent high-profile teacher sex abuse cases throughout Southern California garnering media attention, Schreiber believes it is time to reiterate advice for teachers and anyone accused of improper behavior with students.

When a teacher does argue for their innocence, they always end up making it worse. There is really very little chance that someone is going to talk their way out of an arrest but they may walk themselves into a conviction

With the recent high-profile Miramonte teacher sex abuse scandal and other cases throughout Southern California also garnering media attention, Orange County Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Kenneth L. Schreiber believes it is time to reiterate advice for teachers and anyone accused of improper behavior with students: "If you are a teacher and are accused of a sex crime involving a student, say nothing to anyone except your lawyer" he said recently in a personal interview. This is the same advice he would offer to coaches, teachers' aides, school administrators and other adults who work closely with students on a regular basis.

Each week in Southern California there seems to be a new case of a teacher or a teachers' aide being accused of inappropriate behavior with a student: On May 13, KABC reported on a case in Lawndale and less than a week later, they reported on a case in Whittier. Another story by the same ABC affiliate reported on May 7th that allegations of a cover-up at George De La Torre Elementary regarding a sex crime may have also taken place in Wilmington. And these are just a few examples. Given this recent outbreak of allegations, Schreiber's advice may be particularly timely. He is also a uniquely insightful guide for people accused of sexual impropriety with students.

From 1972 until the year 2000 Schreiber was a referral attorney for the California Teachers Association. The Association represents 325, 000 public school educators and college teachers. In his three decades of representing CTA members, Schreiber represented or advised over 500 teachers and other school employees accused of various crimes. He became quite well-known for his acumen in cases involving sex crimes allegations. Though he continues to practice criminal defense across the spectrum from DUI to domestic violence, his area of focus is still sex crimes defense. Schreiber's clients benefit from his extensive experience and his ability to draw upon past cases for useful lessons.

"In every situation in which a teacher is accused of inappropriate behavior with a student, the teacher should not hesitate to contact a lawyer. Despite a teacher's articulate protestations and recounting of details that they think will exonerate them, the police will continue to use a teacher's words against them. From the start, an attorney should be consulted in this type of situation." The problem, Schreiber concedes, is that many teachers believe if they ask for counsel, they will indicate guilt. Instead, they often try to explain. He says that the temporary inconvenience of a public relations challenge is nothing compared to the potential of career ending and life-altering consequences that may arise from the filing of criminal charges. Furthermore, an attorney may be able to end the case much more quickly if they are contacted immediately.

"The police and prosecutors are trained and experienced professionals. Even a person who is perfectly innocent cannot stand up to their onslaught of aggressive tactics. An experienced lawyer may keep charges from ever being filed. A suspect without an attorney present, however, can make this more challenging by trying to argue their innocence." A defense attorney with a long history of success is particularly crucial in sex crimes cases because these types of allegations attract publicity even when the teacher is falsely accused.

"When a teacher does argue for their innocence, they always end up making it worse. There is really very little chance that someone is going to talk their way out of an arrest but they may walk themselves into a conviction. Talking can only make things worse and it never makes things better." Words can become twisted and a suspect's rights can easily be compromised to support the filing of criminal charges especially when the public eye is focused on the case.

In these types of cases, Schreiber says "people may be accused of reprehensible conduct. When the allegations are particularly disturbing and young children are involved, the public seems more prone to convicting a person before a trial is even held. But the Constitution must be kept in mind regardless of the allegations. In fact, the more serious the charges, the more important the Constitution. It stands as a bulwark against emotional reactions that can cloud justice," he continues. But even when allegations are not as serious as the most dramatic cases, teachers can have their lives ruined by mere perceptions of wrongdoing.

"Imagine a teacher who is with third and fourth graders all day. When a child falls on the playground or cries because they miss their parents, the teacher might hug or console the child with a pat on the shoulder. But a parent may see the teacher pat a child on the shoulder and perceive it as abuse. Every hug and every other instance of physical contact that the teacher ever had with a child may be regarded as suspicious. Even if the teacher is eventually found not guilty, the damage is done. And by arguing his point of view, the teacher may be digging a deeper hole." Schreiber concludes by saying that many teachers in this scenario become so disillusioned by the experience, they leave the profession.

In this type of situation, "when the teacher tries to explain themselves with 'of course I hug the children and touch them quite often. I see offering them comfort as a part of my job,' he has already provided ammunition to prosecutors." The suggestion from an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer should be heeded: don't speak with police or any investigators before speaking to a skilled lawyer.

Despite the frustration that may be involved, if a teacher, or anyone, is accused of molestation or any other sex crime, remaining silent is the best tactic. Anyone falsely accused may want to immediately and vehemently explain their innocence. But, by doing so, they may be ensuring that the charges or allegations against them are prosecuted.

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