Child Sex Offenses

The purpose of the Neal Davis Law Firm E-book series is designed to provide basic, accessible information that is relevant to those who have been charged with a particular type of crime. Those facing charges will be better prepared to make informed decisions if they understand the nature and implications of the charges against them, and have more clarity about what the court process will involve.

What is a Sex Offense?

The term “sex offense” covers a variety of more specific crimes. For example, indecency with a child, improper student-teacher relationships, and aggravated sexual assault of a child are all considered types of sex offenses.

The legal system in both the State of Texas and the United States is harsh toward individuals convicted of sex offenses, and punishment is often severe. Some sex offenses can carry prison sentences of 25 years to life without parole. If released, those convicted may also be required to register as sex offenders, and be prevented from living close to schools and spending time near children.

Choosing a Defense Attorney

If you’ve been charged with a sexual offense, it is crucial to consult a qualified attorney as soon as possible to investigate and prepare your defense. Speaking with police before consulting a defense lawyer could seriously damage your case. If you would like a free consultation to discuss your situation with a qualified attorney, please contact our office as soon as possible. 

Child Sex Offenses: Charges

Overview

It is a crime for any person to engage in sexual contact with a child. It is also a crime for a person to expose himself to a child, or to cause the child to expose himself or herself, for the purpose of sexual gratification. A “child” is defined as any person younger than 17 years old.

If sexual penetration is a part of the accusation, the charges will exceed the “Indecency” classification and punishments are more severe. (See Sexual Assault of a Child and Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child.)

Punishment

Indecency with a child involving sexual exposure is a third-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment from 2 to 10 years, plus a fine up to $10,000. The defendant must register as a sex offender for ten years after being discharged from prison or community supervision. If the defendant has an additional reportable sex offense conviction or deferred adjudication, then lifetime registration is required.

Indecency with a child involving sexual contact is a second-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment from 2 to 20 years, plus a fine up to $10,000. The defendant must register as a sex offender for life.

Defense Strategy

Consent is not an acceptable defense for offenses involving minors. It is against the law to have sexual contact with a person who is younger than 17 years old, regardless of whether that person allows or encourages the contact.

Believing the complainant was older than they really were is also not an acceptable defense. For example, if someone states that they are 18 years old and even has an ID showing that they are 18 years old, the defendant has still broken the law if they engage in sexual contact with the child. It is illegal to engage in sexual contact with a person under 17 years old, regardless of whether one has been misled.

Denying that sexual contact occurred (that is, “It never happened”) is a viable defense strategy. This strategy can be used to defend against allegations of younger kids engaging in sexual behavior.

Process

I’ve been accused—what happens next? Investigations most often begin after the complainant reports the alleged abuse to someone—usually a friend, teacher, or parent. That person then calls the police. Police take the child to an assessment center for an interview, which is recorded on video. Police then interview the witness to whom the child made the allegation and will also attempt to interrogate the suspect, or person accused of the abuse. 

AT THIS POINT IN THE INVESTIGATION, IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PERSON ACCUSED DOES NOT SPEAK TO POLICE AND CHOOSES AND HIRES A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Police are trained to be skilled interrogators. Some officers are so effective that they can coerce false confessions from suspects. To protect the outcome of the investigation, it is important that the person accused does not speak with police. Often, police have already decided to file charges and will attempt to get the person to provide information that hurts his chances of being proven innocent.

If the person accused of the abuse hires a defense lawyer immediately, the lawyer can conduct an investigation as well, which will include talking to the police. The lawyer will be able to determine whether cooperation with the police can help or hurt the case of the person accused.

Some individuals mistakenly believe that hiring an attorney will make them look guilty. This is untrue and can lead to unfortunate consequences. It is the job of a defense attorney to protect the rights of those accused of committing a crime. Police frequently engage with defense attorneys, and it is not unusual for police to DECLINE CHARGES against suspects when a lawyer convinces them that prosecution is not warranted. Police hire attorneys themselves when they come under investigation, and most officers understand that even innocent people will hire attorneys to guide and counsel them through a process that is both foreign and frightening.

If charges are filed, the defendant will be arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond at that time. However, if the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

Overview

A child is a person younger than 17 years old.  It is a crime for a person to engage in sexual penetration with a child 14 to 16 years old.

The child’s age determines the difference between aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child. Aggravated sex assault cases involve children under 14 years old. Sexual assaults involve children 14 to 16 years old.  

Punishment

Minus any complications involving marriage or incest, sexual assault of a child, is a second-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment from 2 to 20 years, plus a fine up to $10,000. 

For sexual assault of a child, the defendant must register for life.

Defense Strategy

Consent is not an acceptable defense. It is against the law to have sexual contact with a person who is younger than 17 years old, regardless of whether that person allows or encourages the contact.

Believing the complainant was older than she really was is also not an acceptable defense. For example, if a child states that she is 18 years old, and even has an ID showing that she is 18 years old, when she is really 15 years old, the defendant has still broken the law if he has engaged in sexual activity with the child. It is illegal to engage in sexual contact with a person under 17 years old, regardless of whether one has been misled.

Denying that the offense occurred (ie: “It never happened”) is, however, a viable defense strategy.

“Medical care,” which occurs when “the conduct consisted of medical care for the child and did not include any contact between the anus or sexual organ of the child and the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of the actor or a third party,” is also a viable defense strategy. 

Process

Investigations most often begin after the complainant reports the alleged abuse to someone—usually a friend, teacher, or parent. That person then calls the police. Police take the child to an assessment center to be interviewed, which is recorded on video. Police then interview the witness to whom the child made the allegation, and they will also attempt to interrogate the suspect – or person accused of the abuse. 

IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PERSON ACCUSED DOES NOT SPEAK TO POLICE AND CHOOSES AND HIRES A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Police are trained to be skilled interrogators. Some police officers are so effective that they have been able to coerce false confessions from suspects. To protect the outcome of the investigation, it is very important that the person accused does not speak with police. Police have often already decided to file charges against the person accused, and will attempt to get the person to provide information that hurts his chances of being proven innocent.

If the person accused of the abuse has been proactive and hired a defense lawyer, the lawyer will conduct an investigation as well, which will include talking to the police. The lawyer will be able to determine whether cooperation with the police can help, or hurt, the case of the person accused.

Some individuals mistakenly believe that hiring an attorney will make them look guilty. This is untrue, and can lead to unfortunate consequences. It is the primary job of a defense attorney to protect the rights of those accused of committing a crime. Police frequently engage with defense attorneys, and it is not unusual for police to decline charges against suspects whose lawyers convince police that prosecution is not warranted. Police often hire attorneys when they themselves come under investigation. Most police officers understand even innocent people hire attorneys to help guide and counsel them through a process that is both foreign and frightening.

If charges are filed, the defendant is arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond at that time. However, if the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

Overview

It is a crime for a person to engage in sexual penetration with a child under 14 years old.

The child’s age determines the difference between aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child. Aggravated sex assault cases involve children under 14 years old. Sex assaults involve children 14 to 16 years old. 

Punishment

Aggravated sexual assault has various punishment ranges, depending on the case. For example, sexual penetration of a child under six years old carries a term of imprisonment of 25 years to life. Sexual penetration of a child between the ages of 6 and 13 years old is a first-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment from 5 to 99 years or life in prison, plus a fine of up to $10,000. 

For aggravated sexual assault, the defendant must register as a sex offender for life.

Defense Strategy

Consent is not an acceptable defense. It is illegal to engage in sexual penetration with a child, regardless of whether that child allows or encourages the contact.

Believing the child was older than she really was is also not an acceptable defense. For example, if a child states that she is 18 years old, and even has an ID showing that she is 18 years old, and she is really 13 years old, the defendant has still broken the law. It is illegal to engage in sexual penetration with a child, regardless of whether one has been misled.

Denying that the offense occurred (ie: “It never happened”) is, however, a viable defense strategy.

“Medical care,” which occurs when “the conduct consisted of medical care for the child and did not include any contact between the anus or sexual organ of the child and the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of the actor or a third party,” is also a viable defense strategy.

Process

Investigations most often begin after the complainant reports the alleged abuse to someone—usually a friend, teacher, or parent. That person then calls the police. Police take the child to an assessment center for an interview, which is recorded on video. Police then interview the witness to whom the child made the allegation, and they will also attempt to interrogate the suspect, or person accused of the abuse. 

IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PERSON ACCUSED DOES NOT SPEAK TO POLICE AND CHOOSES AND HIRES A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY

Police are trained to be skilled interrogators. Some police officers are so effective that they have been able to coerce false confessions from suspects. To protect the outcome of the investigation, it is very important that the person accused does not speak with police. Police have often already decided to file charges against the person accused, and will attempt to get the person to provide information that hurts his chances of being proven innocent.

If the person accused of the abuse has been proactive and hired a defense lawyer, the lawyer will conduct an investigation as well, which will include talking to the police. The lawyer will be able to determine whether cooperation with the police can help, or hurt, the case of the person accused.

Some individuals mistakenly believe that hiring an attorney will make them look guilty. This is untrue, and can lead to unfortunate consequences. It is the job of a defense attorney to protect the rights of those accused of committing a crime. Police frequently engage with defense attorneys, and it is not unusual for police to DECLINE CHARGES against suspects whose lawyers convince police that prosecution is not warranted. Police hire attorneys themselves when they come under investigation, and most officers understand that even innocent people hire attorneys to help guide and counsel them through a process that is both foreign and frightening.

If charges are filed, the defendant is arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond at that time. However, if the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

Overview

It is a crime for a person who is at least 17 years old, to commit two or more acts of sexual abuse over a period of 30 days or more, against a child (or children) who is (or are) younger than 14 years old. 

Punishment

Continuous sexual abuse is an aggravated first-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment from 25 to 99 years or life, plus a fine up to $10,000. 

For continuous sexual abuse of a child, the defendant must register as a sex offender for life.

Defense Strategy

Consent is not an acceptable defense. It is illegal to engage in sexual activity with a child, regardless of whether that child allows or encourages the contact.

Believing the child was older than she really was is also not an acceptable defense. For example, if a child states that she is 18 years old, and even has an ID showing that she is 18 years old, and she is really 13 years old, the defendant has still broken the law. It is illegal to engage in sexual activity with a child, regardless of whether one has been misled.

Denying that the offense occurred (ie: “It never happened”) is, however, a viable defense strategy. 

Process

Investigations most often begin after the complainant reports the alleged abuse to someone—usually a friend, teacher, or parent. That person then calls the police. Police take the child to an assessment center for an interview, which is recorded on video. Police then interview the witness to whom the child made the allegation, and they will also attempt to interrogate the suspect, or person accused of the abuse. 

IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PERSON ACCUSED DOES NOT SPEAK TO POLICE AND CHOOSES AND HIRES A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY

Police are trained to be skilled interrogators. Some officers are so effective that they have been able to coerce false confessions from suspects. To protect the outcome of the investigation, it is very important that the person accused does not speak with police. Police have often already decided to file charges against the person accused, and will attempt to get the person to provide information that hurts his chances of being proven innocent.

If the person accused of the abuse has been proactive and hired a defense lawyer, the lawyer will conduct an investigation as well, which will include talking to the police. The lawyer will be able to determine whether cooperation with the police can help, or hurt, the case of the person accused.

Some individuals mistakenly believe that hiring an attorney will make them look guilty. This is untrue and can lead to unfortunate consequences. It is the job of a defense attorney to protect the rights of those accused of committing a crime. Police frequently engage with defense attorneys, and it is not unusual for police to DECLINE CHARGES against suspects whose lawyers convince police that prosecution is not warranted. Police hire attorneys themselves when they come under investigation, and most officers understand that even innocent people hire attorneys to help guide and counsel them through a process that is both foreign and frightening.

If charges are filed, the defendant is arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond at that time. However, if the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

 

Overview

It is a crime for an employee, including a teacher, of a private or public elementary, middle, or high school to have sexual contact with a student who is enrolled at the school or school district where the employee works.

Someone charged with this crime can also be charged with another crime (e.g., sexual assault of a child).

An “improper relationship” charge is most often brought when the student is of legal age to consent—that is, he or she is at least 17 years old—and consented to the sexual contact. Otherwise, the prosecution would file a charge of indecency with a child, sexual assault of a child, or aggravated sexual assault of a child.  

Punishment

This crime is a second-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment from 2 to 20 years, plus a fine up to $10,000.

Defense Strategy

Consent is not an acceptable defense. It is illegal for an employee of a school to engage in sexual activity with a student enrolled at that school or district, regardless of whether that student is of legal age to consent, or allows or encourages the contact.

Denying that the offense occurred (ie: “It never happened”) is, however, a viable defense strategy.

Other defenses include that the employee was not an employee of the school or district.

Process

Investigations in these cases usually occur when a third party complains to police about the relationship. For example, the student’s mother finds text messages on his phone indicating an improper relationship with his teacher, or the student brags to others about his relationship. Social media, such as Facebook, can suggest an improper relationship, and someone can then report it. Sometimes, police catch the student and teacher in the illegal act.

A school district must complete an investigation into allegations of educator misconduct, even if the defendant resigns from the school district. If the defendant is found to have engaged in improper sexual contact with a student, the State Board for Educator Certification will permanently revoke that educator’s teaching certificate. This school investigation often includes an attempt to interview the defendant.

IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PERSON ACCUSED DOES NOT SPEAK TO POLICE AND CHOOSES AND HIRES A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Police are trained to be skilled interrogators. Some officers are so effective that they have been able to coerce false confessions from suspects. To protect the outcome of the investigation, it is important that the person accused does not speak with police. Police have often already decided to file charges and will attempt to get the person to provide information that hurts his chances of being proven innocent.

If the person accused of the abuse has been proactive and hired a defense lawyer, the lawyer will conduct an investigation as well, which will include talking to the police. The lawyer will be able to determine whether cooperation with the police can help, or hurt, the case of the person accused.

Some individuals mistakenly believe that hiring an attorney will make them look guilty. This is untrue, and can lead to unfortunate consequences. It is the job of a defense attorney to protect the rights of those accused of committing a crime. Police frequently engage with defense attorneys, and it is not unusual for police to decline charges against suspects whose lawyers convince police that prosecution is not warranted. Police hire attorneys themselves when they come under investigation, and most officers understand that even innocent people hire attorneys to help guide and counsel them through a process that is both foreign and frightening.

Special Bond Conditions

If charges are filed, the defendant is arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond at that time.  However, if the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

A defendant charged with having an improper relationship with a student is legally entitled to a bond in Texas.  Unfortunately, given the sensationalized and high-publicity nature of these cases, judges are often inclined to set high bonds so they appear “tough on crime.” Even if a high bond is set initially, the judge will usually lower the bond after any media coverage dies down. If the bond is illegally high, the defendant can ask the appeals court to lower the bond.

 

Child Sex Offenses: Procedure

For most offenses, including child sex offenses, a defendant is entitled to bond pending resolution of the case. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 17.15 states the factors that courts must consider in setting a bond:

  • The bail shall be sufficiently high to give reasonable assurance that the undertaking will be complied with.
  • The power to require bail is not to be so used as to make it an instrument of oppression.
  • The nature of the offense and the circumstances under which it was committed are to be considered.
  • The ability to make bail is to be regarded, and proof may be taken upon this point.
  • The future safety of a victim of the alleged offense and the community shall be considered.

Texas appeals courts have held that other factors can be considered. These factors include the defendant’s work record, community ties, family ties, length of residency, prior criminal history, conformity with any prior bonds, and the existence of any outstanding bond.

The trial court cannot just set any bond. Instead, the court must set a reasonable bond. If the bond is unreasonable, then the defendant can appeal. These appeals are “expedited” or sped up, since the defendant is in custody.

Defendants usually hire a bonding company to post the bond. Bonding companies typically want the defendant to pay ten percent or so of the total bond amount and put up some collateral to make sure the defendant does not jump bond (e.g., fail to appear in court). For example, if the trial court sets a $20,000 bond, a bonding company would charge $2,000, and require the remaining bond amount to be secured by property, such as a house.

A defendant should not just hire any bonding company. Like any business, some bonding companies are reputable and some are not. An experienced defense attorney will be able to advise on which companies are reputable.

In setting a bond, a court may impose certain bond conditions over and above the amount of bond a defendant must post to be released. A defendant charged with a sex offense, for example, may be prohibited from having Internet access, being around children without adult supervision, and having contact with the complainant.

An offender who has a reportable sex offense conviction, deferred adjudication, or adjudication on or after September 1, 1970, has a duty to register as a sex offender. A defendant therefore has to register for certain offenses, even if the defendant receives deferred adjudication probation and the case is dismissed after he completes it. 

Sex offender records are open to the public. Any person can view the sex offender database, and see the face, address, and offense record of the person charged.

NOT ALL CASES GO TO TRIAL. If an experienced defense attorney is hired to take the case as soon as allegations are made, a case can often be dismissed WITHOUT CHARGES EVEN BEING FILED. However, if law enforcement move forward with pressing charges and a case does go to trial, the following is a summary of what you can expect from the trial process:

First, the prosecutor is allowed to pick a jury. The prosecutor screens potential jurors, looking for those who might be unfavorable to the desired outcome of the prosecution.  

Second, the prosecutor will give an opening statement outlining what the prosecution believes the evidence will show.

Third, the prosecutor will call witnesses. These witnesses will almost always be the complainant, and the person to whom the complainant made the allegation. Additionally, police are called to testify about how they received the call to investigate, what they did, and anything incriminating the defendant may have told them. Sometimes, the complainant’s therapist, parents, teachers, or friends are called if they can shed light on the circumstances surrounding the alleged abuse. The prosecutor will often call a “child sex abuse” expert from a child advocacy group such as the Children’s Assessment Center.

Like the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney will also question jurors and present the case for the defense, including calling witnesses and experts to testify on behalf of the person accused. To achieve a favorable outcome and move forward with a fair trial, it is essential that the accused person hire an attorney who is experienced with this type of case, and has a record of proven success.

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 38.37 allows the prosecution to introduce evidence of certain sex allegations against any child, not just the complainant in the charged case, to be admitted at trial. This means, when there are multiple allegations involving different complainants, they are all admissible at trial. It takes a particularly adept attorney in sex abuse cases to fend off the onslaught of multiple allegations and complainants.