In March of 2015, 14 male students at Venice High School were arrested on suspicion of committing sexual assault against female students at the same school. According to the Los Angeles Times, on May 20, 2015 the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that no charges would be filed against any of the students who were arrested.
How does this happen? How does a high profile arrest of children fizzle out without any charges filed?
Here’s how it works. When the police make an arrest, whether it’s one person or 14 people, they generate an arrest report, which details their investigation and the conclusion. The report is then turned over the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor than decides if there’s enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor there is enough evidence to meet the standard of proof, charges will be filed with the court. If there is not evidence, the prosecutors will either send the file back to the investigating police agency to continue the investigation or reject the case entirely.
In the Venice High case, it appears that the investigation was concluded when the file was turned over to the District Attorney and no further investigation was done. When minors are involved, there is policy pressure on the DA to make a filing decision as quickly as possible so that children aren’t living in limbo wondering if criminal charges are pending against them.
And in the Venice High case, with so many arrests in what ultimately is a “he said/she said” case, there simply was not enough evidence to merit a filing. The facts were murky.
One of the main issues in the case is whether the alleged sexual assaults were actually consensual encounters. Under California Penal Code 261.5, sex between with anyone under 18 even if both parties are under 18, is illegal even if both parties consent. That’s right, consensual teenage sex is illegal in California.
Is this enforceable? It’s difficult. We live in the real world after all. Sexual safety is taught in school to teenagers. Issues focus on consent and health rather than abstinence. In the Venice High case the issue was the fact that there was blatant sex going on in the school. Kids were apparently posting and discussing these encounters on social media. There was issue of whether or not there was consent and there are reports that some encounters were consensual and others were not consensual. This makes the allegations even more difficult to prove. Will we ever know the truth of what happened? Probably not.
But the cautionary tale here is that kids, parents, school administrators and police have to be very careful and aware of the changing norms surrounding teenage sexual behavior, consent, and social media.
Bottom line: If you or a loved one are accused of a sex crime in adult or juvenile court, do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 or get on touch with via our confidential contact form.