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Defending Against Sexual Assault Charges in Texas

In recent years, sexual assault cases have gained increased attention, raising awareness about the complex and sensitive nature of these allegations. If you or someone you know is facing sexual assault charges in Harris County or Galveston County, it's crucial to understand the legal implications and the importance of a robust defense.

The prospect of being charged with a sexual assault offense in Texas is frightening enough--your reputation, if nothing else, is at stake. What's more, however, is that a conviction will impact your life for the rest of your life. A conviction likely means you have to register as a sex offender. As such, it will affect your employment opportunities, housing or living arrangements, and personal relationships.

Understanding Sexual Assault Laws in Texas?

Sexual assault laws in Texas encompass a range of offenses, from unwanted touching to more severe forms of sexual violence. It's essential to be familiar with the state's definitions and classifications of these crimes to effectively navigate the legal process. Sexual assault is an illegal act of a sexual nature. Depending on the allegations, sexual assault allegations are prosecuted at both a state and federal level.

Sexual assault can be either consensual or non-consensual. In the case of a consensual sexual assault, the circumstances make it illegal, even if the parties consent to the conduct. Prostitution, incest, and sex with a minor (statutory rape) are examples of sexual assault offenses that may have been "consensual." 

Non-consensual sexual assault offenses occur when the complainant does not consent to the act. Rape is an example. A victim may not be able to provide consent because of their characteristics. If the victim is a minor, intoxicated or mentally ill, the law says they lack the capacity to consent to sexual acts. In cases of minors and capacity, each state sets the age of the minority--many states have it set as low as age 16, but other states have it set at 17 or 18 years old. In Texas, the Texas Penal Code states that once a person becomes 17 years of age, they have reached the legal age to provide consent to participate in sexual activity with another person 17 years of age or older. 

Types of Sexual Assault in Texas

Offenses involving sexual assault make up a broad range of offenses. Each jurisdiction has its specific definition for its specific criminal sex acts.

Types of Sex Crimes

  • Rape - sexual penetration without consent
  • Statutory rape - sex involving an underage victim
  • Sexual assault - a non-consensual sexual act
  • Child molestation - a sexual act with a minor 
  • Possession or distribution of illicit sexual material, such as child pornography
  • Indecent exposure - exposure of the genitals in public
  • Incest - sexual acts between blood relatives
  • Prostitution - engaging in sexual acts in exchange for money or other compensation 

Most jurisdictions recognize certain circumstances that can aggravate the offense and make the allegations more serious.

Potential Aggravating Circumstances

  • the involvement of a child victim
  • the use of force
  • the use of a weapon
  • the use of drugs to render a victim unconscious during the act. 

What Are the Consequences of a Sex Crime Conviction in Texas?

The penalties for sexual assault offenses range from fines to lengthy periods of incarceration. A conviction for a sexual assault offense can lead to any of the below penalties.

  • Fines or Fees
  • Probation
  • Community Supervision
  • Restitution
  • Classes or Treatment
  • Prison
  • Registering as a Sex Offender (Megan's Law)

When sentencing someone for a sexual assault offense, the court takes into account the circumstances of the offense, the characteristics of the victim, and the offender's personal situation. These circumstances may enhance or mitigate the sentence imposed by the judge or jury.

If convicted of a sex crime, you might also have to register as a sex offender. This can be a lifelong consequence and involves following certain rules. For example, failure to timely update the police on your whereabouts and current address could result in criminal action against you.

Megan's Law

In Texas, Megan's Law is implemented through a combination of state statutes and regulations that govern the registration and public disclosure of information about individuals convicted of certain sex offenses. The primary objective is to provide the public with information about registered sex offenders to enhance community safety. The specific laws and procedures related to Megan's Law in Texas are outlined in Chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

Key features of Megan's Law in Texas include:

  1. Registration Requirements: Individuals convicted of certain sex offenses are required to register as sex offenders with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). This registration includes providing personal information, details about the offense, and other relevant information.

  2. Tiered System: Texas employs a tiered system for classifying sex offenders based on the perceived risk they pose to the community. The tier level determines the extent of public notification. Tier I offenders have the lowest risk, Tier II offenders have a moderate risk, and Tier III offenders are considered to have the highest risk.

  3. Public Access to Information: Information about registered sex offenders is made available to the public through the Texas Sex Offender Registry. This online database is accessible to anyone and allows users to search for offenders based on various criteria, including location and name.

  4. Community Notification: Law enforcement agencies are authorized to notify the public about certain high-risk sex offenders. Community notification may include distributing flyers, conducting public meetings, or using other means to inform residents about the presence of a sex offender in their area.

  5. Lifetime Registration: In many cases, individuals convicted of certain serious sex offenses are required to register as sex offenders for life. The duration of registration may vary based on the severity of the offense and the tier classification.

It's important to note that while Megan's Law serves the purpose of informing the public, there are also legal protections in place to prevent the misuse of this information and to ensure that the rights of registered sex offenders are upheld. Individuals subject to registration requirements may have the opportunity to petition for removal from the registry under certain circumstances, depending on the specific laws and regulations in Texas.

Sentence Mitigation

The judge or jury can consider mitigating aspects used to justify a sentence less than the proposed minimum, such as:

  • the offender having committed the crime under pressure or force
  • the victim having contributed to the offender's actions
  • the offender having helped the police identify other suspects (for example, a child trafficking ring)

Sentence Enhancement

A prior conviction for a similar offense or the presence of an aggravating circumstance usually results in a harsher sentence. Sexual assault involving children elicit the harshest penalties. Some sexual assault offenses require the court to impose a mandatory minimum sentence. 

In addition to any penalty they receive, a convicted sex offender in Texas may have to register with the state or national sex offender registry. This requires the person to provide their personal information, like their residential address and employment status, to local law enforcement. Their information is then released or publicized to local organizations and/or the public through what has become known as Megan's Law. Failure to register as a sex offender carries additional consequences and possible criminal charges.

The Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer

When facing sexual assault charges, enlisting the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer is paramount. A skilled attorney can provide invaluable guidance, ensuring your rights are protected and crafting a defense strategy tailored to the unique aspects of your case. You need a sexual assault defense lawyer who knows how to address and defend criminal charges related to sexual assault in Texas.

A skilled defense lawyer will meticulously review the circumstances surrounding the arrest and investigation to ensure that law enforcement adhered to proper procedures. Any violations of the accused individual's rights, such as unlawful searches or seizures, can be grounds for suppressing evidence.

Before heading to trial, a defense attorney may explore pre-trial options, such as filing motions to suppress evidence or negotiating plea bargains. These strategies aim to secure the best possible outcome for the accused, considering the specific circumstances of the case.

Possible Defenses to Charges of Sexual Assault in Texas

The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the sex crime, and failure to do so is part of your defense. A good lawyer will point out the gaps and errors to raise doubt. That said, when defending against any allegations of a sex crime, it is important to take a holistic approach regardless of the prosecutor's performance. Part of the strategy can involve any of the following:

  • Technical issues, like filing after the statute of limitations
  • Constitutional violations, where your rights have been violated
  • Defenses, like mistaken identity or consent
  • Alibi, meaning you were somewhere else or with someone else at the time of the incident

Consent is a central issue in many sexual assault cases. A knowledgeable defense attorney can explore and present evidence that demonstrates consent, highlighting the importance of clear communication and understanding between the parties involved.

One key aspect of a strong defense involves challenging the prosecution's case. This can include questioning the credibility of the accuser, scrutinizing the evidence presented, and identifying potential weaknesses in the prosecution's argument. Your defense strategy will depend is very case-specific, so retaining an experienced sexual assault defense lawyer in Texas is your first step to clearing your name or getting the best possible outcome in your unique situation.

How can a Sexual Assault Attorney in Texas Help?

Facing sexual assault charges can be an overwhelming and emotionally charged experience. However, with the right legal representation, individuals can navigate the legal landscape with confidence. If you or someone you know is confronting sexual assault allegations in Texas, reach out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer to discuss your case and build a robust defense strategy tailored to your unique situation. Remember, everyone deserves a fair and just legal process, and a skilled attorney can make all the difference in achieving that outcome.

If you've been charged with an offense involving allegations of sexual assault, you should immediately seek professional advice from a criminal defense attorney with experience dealing with sexual offenses. Accusations of this nature are serious, with potentially severe penalties and long-lasting consequences. 

It is possible to defend against sexual assault allegations. In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard of proof, and there are many avenues to explore when contesting allegations of this nature. An experienced defense lawyer will force the state to prove its case against you, while also using the facts to build your defense. In cases where it's relevant and in your best interests, a defense lawyer will ensure you get the best plea deal.

Contact a Sexual Assault Defense Attorney in Texas Today

An experienced attorney can explain your rights to you, as well as any potential defenses available to you. They can also ensure you receive a fair trial and prepare an effective defense to the charges on your behalf. Anthony Smith has defendant numerous clients charged with sexual assault offenses in Galveston County and Harris County. To discuss your case, call the Law Office of Anthony Ray Smith at 713-242-8917 or fill out an online form to schedule a free consultation.

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