Research shows that 175 children in Texas fall victim to some form of abuse every day. Moreover, one in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.
Texas Penal Code §22.011 defines the elements of sexual assault of a child.
Today, we’re taking a close look at these standards. The penalties for this charge are substantial, so it’s important to understand them in full. Read on to learn what the law entails and how you can become more informed.
What Defines a Sexual Assault Offense?
Under the Texas Penal Code, a sexual assault offense is one must be committed knowingly or intentionally. There are three distinct scenarios that define this charge. They include:
- Causing the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent;
- Causing the penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor, without that person’s consent; or
- Causing the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor
Note that these regulations define adult scenarios. When it comes to children, these laws are adjusted as follows.
Understand that in Texas, a child-related sexual abuse charge can include allegations that span beyond assault to also include exploitation and neglect. Section 261 of the Texas Family Code defines all of the specific instances of abuse. Some of these actions are charged as injury to a child
These can span from sexual intercourse to trafficking, molestation, indecent behavior and more. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the different allegations you could face.
Concerning sexual assault, Texas law defines a child as anyone younger than 17 years old. Anyone this age or younger cannot legally give consent to any form of sexual contact.
The exact definition of sexual assault of a child is included in Subsection (a)(1) of Texas Penal Code §22.011. This includes:
- Penetrating the anus or sexual organ of a child by any means
- Penetrating the mouth of a child with your sexual organ
- Causing the sexual organ of a child to penetrate the mouth, anus or sexual organ of yourself or another person
- Causing the anus of a child to contact the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of yourself or another person
- Causing the mouth of a child to contact the anus or sexual organ of yourself or another person
Aggravated Sexual Assault
When does a charge of sexual assault become elevated to aggravated sexual assault?
There are a few instances, which occur if:
- The victim is younger than 14 years old
- The assailant uses a deadly weapon
- The assailant uses a date rape drug
- The assailant seriously injured the child
- The assailant intended to kill the child
In Texas, aggravated sexual assault is punishable as a first-degree felony. This means you could face up to 99 years in prison or life imprisonment. In addition, you’ll pay a fine of up to $10,000.
The Texas legal code does not include a clause with language specific to child molestation. Most often, these cases will fall under Texas Penal Code Section 21.11(c). This clause prohibits anyone from touching a child with the intent to gratify or arouse any sexual desires.
Moreover, acts that are defined and prosecuted as molestation in other states are still considered criminal offenses in Texas.
The law defines two distinct cases of indecency. The first is indecency with a child by direct contact, punishable as a second-degree felony. The other is indecency with a child by exposure, punishable as a third-degree felony.
Continuous Sexual Abuse Cases
Sexual abuse isn’t always a one-time occurrence. It could last for months or even years. In these cases, Texas law normally prosecutes these offenders as first-degree felons.
Outside of capital murder, this is the most serious offense you can commit, based on how Texas law defines and sentences the act.
Texas Penal Code Section 21.02 defines child-related sexual abuse as “continuous” if an individual commits two or more acts within a 30-day period. This statute applies to any case that involves one or multiple victims under the age of 14.
There are some instances in which aggravated kidnapping falls under the category of sexual abuse. This occurs if the person committing the offense does so with the intent to abuse or violate the victim sexually.
In a similar vein, some acts of burglary can also be considered sexual abuse. This occurs if the person committing the burglary does so with the intent to abuse or violate the victim sexually.
Contrary to what the name implies, Texas law around online solicitation of a minor does not always entail the actual, physical solicitation of a minor. This charge applies to anyone who represents himself or herself to be under the age of 17. It also applies if an alleged offender communicates with someone that he or she believes to be under 17, regardless of that person’s actual age.
In the state of Texas, the following scenarios fall under the umbrella of child pornography:
- Taking sexually-explicit videos of a child
- Taking sexually-explicit photographs of a child
- Charging for any sexually-explicit photos or videos of a child
- Possessing sexually-explicit photos or videos of a child
- Knowing about the presence of sexually-explicit photos or videos of a child and failing to report it
All of these can lead to serious charges. If the police suspect that you have created, possessed or distributed child pornography, they can obtain a search warrant for your home. They can also have the legal authority to seize your computer, cell phone, and other related technological devices.
Child Sex Trafficking
A child sex trafficking charge can include performing the following actions concerning a child under the age of 18, with the intent of engaging or assisting in sexual assault, abuse or exploitation:
- Transporting a child
- Recruiting a child
- Enticing a child
- Providing a child
- Obtaining a child
The law prosecutes most of these cases as first-degree felonies.
In Texas, a person must be 17 years old to give legal consent to any act. Though the state law does not use the specific term “Statutory Rape”, it does prohibit engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor under the age of 17.
If this occurs, the assailant can face prosecution for sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault. Note that unlike some other states, Texas does not distinguish between instances of rape and statutory rape, it is addressed by the potential punishment range.
Penalties for Child Abuse or Assault
Sexual assault and the aforementioned other sex-related offenses carry major, expensive penalties under Texas law.
In some rare cases, these offenses can be classified as Class A or Class B misdemeanors. However, a majority of child-related sexual assault, abuse, or exploitation charges will carry a felony charge.
How much time in prison will you face? What about fines? Here is the breakdown of Texas felony penalties:
- First–Degree Felony: Five years to life in prison, plus a $10,000 fine
- Second–Degree Felony: Two to twenty years in prison plus a $10,000 fine
- Third-Degree Felony: Two to ten years in prison plus a $10,000 fine
It’s important to know that not all of these charges fall into these three categories. There are some circumstances in which prosecutors will crack down even harder on assailants.
Super Aggravated Felonies
These are classified as Super Aggravated Felonies. Two of the most prominent charges in this category include:
- Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
- Sexual Assault of a Child under the age of six
If you’re convicted of a Super Aggravated Felony, you could face up 25 years to life in prison, with no possibility of parole.
Long-Term Implications of a Conviction
While there are myriad different classifications and punishments involved with sexual assault cases in Texas, one thing is clear: A charge will change your life forever.
If you’re convicted, you’ll be forced to register under the Texas Sex Offender Registration Program. Moreover, any arrest records for crimes classified as Class B misdemeanors and above are available as Texas Public Record.
This means that everyone, from your friends and neighbors to future employers, will have access to information about your conviction. This can impact your relationships, reputation, and hiring potential. According to research, more than 96% of employers conduct background checks before making a hiring decision. This is a massive strike against your record with implications that could last long past your prison term.
Thus, it’s critical to take your case seriously.
Proving Guilt Beyond Reasonable Doubt
For you to be persecuted for the sexual assault of a child, the prosecution will be required to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This requirement is designed to protect individuals from being falsely accused of this crime, as it is one of the most serious and costly ones you can commit. As such, the requirement to demonstrate your action “beyond a reasonable doubt” is enacted The highest burden of proof possible, this means that the judge or jury in question has to be 100% convinced that you committed the alleged crime before delivering a sentence.
Why such a strict requirement?
While child abuse and assault cases are very real and very serious, they are not without false accusations. There are myriad instances in which this possibility might occur. Potential cases that can help your defense include:
- Inhospitable divorces
- Child custody issues
- Feelings of anger or resentment
- One adult seeking retribution against another adult
These are only a few of the instances in which someone could conspire a false assucation of sexual assault or abuse. Thus, it’s important to never assume that you will be found guilty at your trial. The same goes for accepting a plea bargain.
Instead, team up with a reputable and experienced attorney who can help examine your case from every angle and provide the strongest defense possible. With a strong legal team on your side, you can improve your chances of having your charges reduced, negotiating a minimum sentence, or even getting the charges dropped entirely.
Your lawyer can also help limit the publicity of your charges by resolving the case in your favor. This can help you uphold your reputation and prevent it from destroying or limiting your future potential.
A qualified criminal defense attorney understands the applicable defenses allowed under a child sexual assault case. Examples include:
- The defendant was the child’s legal spouse when the offense occurred
- The conduct in question was medical care for the child and did not involve contact with or penetration of the child or the defendant’s mouth, anus or sexual organ
- The defendant was three or fewer years older than the child’s senior at the time of the offense
- The defendant is legally insane
These are a few of the potential scenarios that could change the outcome of your trial. Your defense team can guide you on the right approach to take that’s appropriate to your specific case.
Actions to Avoid Before Trial
As you’re awaiting your sexual abuse or sexual assault trial, it might be tempting to share details of the case with anyone who will listen. This can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming time, and venting online or in-person to friends and family members can seem like a great idea.
However, it’s in your best interest to remain as quiet as possible.
Before your case goes to trial, avoid such costly mistakes as:
- Speaking to the police without legal representation
- Speaking to a representative from Child Protective Services (CPS) without legal representation
- Taking steps to retaliate against your accuser
- Posting about your case on social media
- Discussing details about your case to anyone outside of your legal team
Partner with a Qualified Defense Attorney Today
Have you been accused of child sexual assault in Texas?
If so, the time to hire a defense attorney is right now. You can’t afford to wait and build your defense as the case develops. By taking quick, proactive action, you can help get ahead of legal action and create the strongest defense possible.
If you’re ready to take these next steps, we’re here to help.
We’re a team of Houston criminal defense lawyers experienced in cases like yours. Contact us today for a confidential case evaluation and let’s take this next step forward together.