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How Long Does It Take To Investigate A Sex Crime?

This is an interesting question because it depends on a case's facts and circumstances and how long it will take to investigate a sex crime case in Los Angeles, California.

If the police see somebody commit a sex crime, that's enough for them to arrest the person on the spot, but that doesn't happen that often. There are other cases where someone is accused of a sex crime, witnesses, and the police feel comfortable enough to bring it to the prosecutors and file the case.

The police decide, based on the evidence that they have, that they're just going to arrest the person, and they don't need much investigation and send them into court and let the prosecutors deal with them. But there is that segment of cases – which is really what this article is about – where there needs to be an investigation.

Who Investigates Sex Crimes?

It's a good question because not just the general police typically investigate a sex crime case. If a sex crime case falls in their lap – they're driving in their police vehicle, and all of a sudden they get called out to a sex crime case, then obviously they have to do whatever investigation they can.

But, I see many things get messed up on the police's end when they don't have the usually trained professionals who know what to look for and what type of evidence to preserve and go after in a sex crime case. A lot of times, they miss things or they misconstrue things.

So, the people who investigate these sex crime cases are typically detectives tasked explicitly with investigating sex crime cases. They've got experience. They have special training. They've access to prosecutors who can help them investigate sex crime cases.

In many sex crime cases, there's more than meets the eye, so even the detectives in Los Angeles County, for example, don't have the resources or the know-how to deal with it.

They have to go to the prosecutors and talk to them about it. There are special sex crime prosecutors that are not only involved with the prosecution of sex crime cases in Los Angeles and across the country, but they are also involved in the investigative phase. They'll tell the detectives what they want them to do.

Local Law Enforcement and the FBI

Also, it's not just local law enforcement who investigates sex crimes. The FBI will investigate sex crimes and other branches of the federal government depending on what happens and who is involved. So, a whole cadre of authorities investigates sex crimes in Los Angeles, California.

A lot of it is done jurisdictionally but bet your bottom dollar that most of the time, if there's any sophistication involved in a sex crime, they're going to have the top-level prosecutors and top-level law enforcement officers investigating the case. They're not just going to use the regular police.

The powers that be are going to use special sex-crime detectives. They're going to get the prosecutors involved in cases. Different things can be done in sex crime offenses.

Forensic Experts

They'll also use experts to investigate. In other words, they'll have people who can check for DNA and check for semen. Often, they'll do what's called a pretext phone call. The detectives will use the alleged victim to help investigate the case.

So, there are several different tools, but when I get a case, and somebody is asking me about the investigation and what the prosecution is going to likely do – because I get a lot of them pre-filing before any charges are filed in the case – I can give the client a list of things that they will likely do to investigate.

It depends on the circumstances of the case – the charges and the nature of the costs. They don't just do the same thing every time.

So, if a client tells me it's a, he said/she said situation, I can tell them,  they're probably going to do what's called a pretext phone call where the alleged victim calls you and then starts asking you questions, such as, why did you do this, what about this, and then the detectives will tape record and listen to it on the other end.

That's robust evidence, I think, both ways. Sometimes the defendant says, I don't know what you're talking about. Other times, they apologize, and obviously, that's a tacit admission of guilt.

So, there are all sorts of things they can do. They get experts involved. They test for various fluids. They'll also try to see if any injuries are what you would usually expect if someone was a victim of a sex crime.

They're going to talk to witnesses who may have seen or heard things related to whatever happened, so it just depends on what type of a case it is, what happened in the case – the facts and circumstances surrounding the case – and what evidence they have and whatever evidence they still think they can get.

Often, they're going to go to whoever they believe possesses that evidence. As far as who is going to investigate the particular sex-related offense, it will be jurisdictionally, and it will go with whoever is the most qualified.

Why Do Sex Crimes Take So Long to Investigate?

I've been handling sex crime defense now in Los Angeles County for almost 30 years, so I think I have a pretty good feel for what's going on in that type of investigation situation. There's no question when it's not clear whether somebody has committed a sex crime, or even if it is clear, but the police don't come out right away and arrest the person.

Instead, it's handled by a detective; some of these cases can take months, even years, for them to prosecute the case. The reasons for this are many-fold, including the following:

Why Do Sex Crimes Take So Long to Investigate?
  • there are not as many detectives that handle these cases in the first place, and
  • we have a situation where LAPD, even the sheriffs, are understaffed and are under attack in many different respects by different groups;
  • prosecutors are very busy, and it takes time to review the case.

So, they do not have the workforce to investigate some of these cases.  I've had instances where they've taken two or three years to file a charge against my client. 

I've asked the detectives what has taken so long?  Where have you been? 

And they've told me that we only have a limited number of detectives investigating these types of cases in Los Angeles County sex crimes, and that area of the law, it's significantly impacted right now. 

There are a lot of things going on.  Many people make complaints to the police, some of which are valid; some are not valid.

But, sometimes, it takes time and effort and works for the police to figure out which cases are good cases that make sense to prosecute and which cases are not so good and don't make any sense to charge.

Prosecutors are Responsible for Filing Charges

Another factor that you have to consider if you're under investigation for a sex crime is that once the police finish their study, they have to take it to the prosecutors, who are very busy at this point as well. 

Now you have a situation where after the police take a long time to do their work, the prosecutors filing deputies take a long time to look into these cases and make decisions.

Further, many times, if it's a close case, the prosecutors will look at the point, and they're going to give it back to the police, saying, I'm not filing this case. 

It's too close of a call. Please go out and do further investigation on this case.  What ends up happening is that you get yourself in a situation where it's going back to the police, and more time is wasted while they investigate the case.

Standard Sex Crime Charges in California

  • Penal Code 311 PC – child pornography,
  • Penal Code 647.6 PC – child molestation,
  • Penal Code 290 PC – failure to register as a sex offender,
  • Penal Code 288 PC – lewd acts with minor,
  • Penal Code 288a PC – oral copulation with minor,
  • Penal Code 314 PC – indecent exposure,
  • Penal Code 647(b) PC - solicitation of prostitution,
  • Penal Code 243.4 PC - sexual battery,
  • Penal Code 220 PC - assault to commit felony,
  • Penal Code 261PC – rape,
  • Penal Code 261.5 PC – statutory rape,
  • Penal Code 266h PC – pimping,
  • Penal Code 266i PC – pandering,
  • Penal Code 269 PC – aggravated sexual abuse of child,
  • Penal Code 286(b) PC – sodomy of minor,
  • Penal Code 288.4 PC – arrange a meeting with minor for lewd purposes,
  • Penal Code 288.2 PC – send the harmful matter to seduce minor,
  • Penal Code 288.3 PC - contacting minor to commit felony,
  • Penal Code 236.1 PC - human trafficking,
  • Penal Code 288.5 PC - continuous sexual abuse of a child,
  • Penal Code 289 PC - forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object,
  • Penal Code 646.9 PC - stalking,
  • Penal Code 647(a) PC – lewd conduct in public,
  • Penal Code 647(J)(4) PC – revenge porn,
  • Penal Code 653.22 PC - loitering for prostitution,
  • Penal Code 653.23 PC - supervising or aiding prostitution.


Sometimes it's the said/she said situation, and there's not much evidence on the person claiming something sexually-related happened to them. Therefore, some investigation needs to be done because both the police and prosecutors realize that if they don't investigate these he said/she said cases.

Testing will be done. They'll see if there's DNA, semen, or any injuries that would be consistent with somebody who was sexually abused.

Other times, the alleged perpetrator of the crime may have a criminal background related to this type of offense. So, that will take some time to investigate. Maybe they need to talk to witnesses and alleged victims in other cases the person might have perpetrated. That can cause an investigation to take some time.

So, when you are talking about how much time the police have to do. It's not like you see on TV where police work 24/7 on a case. A lot of times they work 9 to 5, work four-day weeks, and have other cases. So, it takes months to investigate some of these cases.

It depends on what they have to do and how busy they are – what their caseload is – as far as the time frame for the investigation. A lot of people ask me, can they take that long? Is that right? The bottom line is they can take whatever time they need.

They don't have to file the case right away immediately. They have to be aware of the statute of limitations for the particular crime or crimes they wish to file.

They have to be aware that the defense at some point might decide to file a motion saying they took too long, and therefore, the reason cannot do their investigation.

Witnesses' memories have faded, and now there's evidence that would have been available if they had acted swiftly that's no longer available. Then the defense can make an argument to dismiss the case based on that.

DNA Testing

So, those are the two considerations that they have when thinking about whether or not they're going to file a case and how much time to file. Sometimes, if there's an argument that the defendant says I didn't touch that person after they talk to them, they may want to do some DNA testing on the alleged victim, which can take some time.

The DNA laboratories across Los Angeles County are backed-up even related to sex crime offenses. They prioritize things and take things in order, which can take some time to get things done.

So, as far as really getting the pulse of how long a particular sex crime investigation might take in Los Angeles County, you need to sit down with a defense attorney.

When I sit down with people, we talk about pre-filing. Okay, here's what the prosecutors are going to try to get.

Here's what we can do while we're sitting here waiting, and the bottom line is, I will contact the prosecutors. I will contact the police – whoever is in charge of the case at that point – and try to get a feel for how long it's going to take.

Part of my job is to try to give the client peace of mind so they have a good sense of exactly where they are, how long it's going to take, what's likely to happen, what they can do to help, and what I'm going to do to help them when it comes to a sex-related offense in Los Angeles County.

How Is a Sex Crime Determined To Be Either a Misdemeanor or Felony?

There are several factors that determine whether a sex crime will be a felony or a misdemeanor, one of which is what the defendant did. Some offenses related to sex crimes are just straightforward felonies.

For example, if someone raped another person, they would be charged with a felony. Other offenses, however, are considered “wobblers,” meaning that the discretion of the prosecutors and the defendant's prior sex-related criminal history will determine how it will be categorized.

The prosecutors will consider the type of act committed, along with the defendant's standing in the community and the impact on the victim.

Ultimately, they will need to decide whether or not the defendant is a threat to society at large. Based on a three-tiered sex crime system that's gone into effect across California, some sex crimes will require lifetime sex offender registration, and others will only require sex offender registration for a certain period.

What About Sex Cases That Involve The Use of Drugs or Alcohol?

Many sex crime cases in Los Angeles County involve drugs or alcohol. In some cases, the alleged victim will have used drugs or alcohol during what they allege to have been a sex offense and will wake up the following day feeling as though they had been taken advantage of.

Alternatively, they will wake up and realize that they cannot piece together all of the events that took place the night before. When an alleged victim cannot remember all of the details of an alleged affair, they will be subject to attack, and the defense attorney will have several questions.

If someone can't remember an event, then it will be argued that they could have given consent and simply don't recall doing so. In most of the cases, I handle in Los Angeles County, drugs or alcohol play a role. Often, the use of common sense will reveal that a sex crime didn't occur at all.

For example, an alleged perpetrator could have been under the impression that the alleged victim had given consent, or an alleged victim could have other reasons (a significant other, loss of inhibition due to drugs or alcohol, etc.) for believing or claiming that they were sexually violated.

That, however, puts the defendant in an unfair position. Ultimately, if two people consensually engaged in sexual acts, and if the parties were 18 years or older, it will be determined that a crime was not committed.

Why Is It Important to Retain a Lawyer Early in the Sex Investigation?

So, the question becomes, if you're an individual who is looking at a potential sex crime charge and you're assessing whether or not to hire an attorney and what the situation is, you should always hire an attorney. 

Let the attorney be in on the case from the beginning, and let that attorney work for you, even if it takes time. Even if the attorney calls a detective, calls the prosecutors, and they're still deciding what to do, you still want to have that buffer between you and the prosecutors. 

You don't want the prosecutors, investigators, and police coming to talk to you. Put simply, you want them to deal with your attorney. That way, no mistakes are made; nobody says you said something you didn't.

Negotiation with the prosecutor might avoid the formal filing of charges before the court. This process is known as prefiling intervention, where criminal defense lawyers negotiate with law enforcement and the filing deputy by putting together a mitigation package.

So, pick up the phone now.  I've been doing this for almost 30 years; if you're under investigation for a sex crime or any criminal case in Los Angeles County, you've come to the right place. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  Let me put my experience to work for you.

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