Child sex abuse defense and the importance of hiring the right attorney
Sex crimes involving children can bring years in prison
Sex crimes involving children can bring harsh punishments on the state and federal levels, as shown by the 12 years in prison now facing former reality show star Jerry Harris of the made-in-Texas Netflix docuseries Cheer.
On Wednesday, July 6, Harris was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison, to be followed by 8 years of supervised release. He’s already served part of that sentence, since he was held without bond in a federal detention center after his arrest in the fall of 2020.
Last February, Harris, 22, pleaded guilty in federal court in Illinois to 1 count of soliciting sex from minors and 1 count of obtaining photos of child sexual abuse. That was part of a plea deal his attorneys negotiated after he initially faced a 7-count indictment for child-related sex crimes.
The plea deal worked out by Harris’s criminal defense lawyers enabled him to avoid a sentence that could have been much worse: up to 50 years in federal prison.
The child pornography charge to which he pleaded guilty involved the social media app Snapchat. Authorities cited months of interaction between Harris and underage boys on the app, where he allegedly urged them to send him nude photos and videos.
The criminal justice system comes down particularly hard on sex offenses, especially in Texas.
Contrition shown at sentencing hearing
Harris was contrite at his sentencing hearing, according to a statement that his attorneys provided for CNN.
In the statement, he apologized to victims for the “trauma” he’d caused and said, “I pray that your suffering comes to an end and that these proceedings provide you with needed closure.
“I am ashamed, as I know that I took advantage of your youth and weakness. I was wrong and selfish. I caused you harm, and I do not blame anyone,” Harris continued.
Harris was featured prominently in the 1st season of Cheer, which followed a competitive student cheerleading team from Navarro College in Corsicana, just southeast of Dallas. That season premiered on Netflix in early 2020 and later won 2 Emmy awards.
In 2021, the show’s 8-episode 2nd season—still set at Navarro—addressed the allegations standing against Harris at that time and included an interview with 2 of his accusers.
Sex crime charges can be state or federal
Depending on the circumstances of a sex crime, a person can be faced with both federal and state charges, with punishments handed down for each depending on federal and state sentencing guidelines. Harris only faced federal charges, although he also faces a civil lawsuit.
Even internet sex crimes involving no physical contact between an accused person and an alleged victim can lead to years in prison.
For example, a Texas law similar to those in 20 or more states holds that it’s illegal to engage in “sexting,” or electronic transmission of sexual images, with a child under 18 years old at the time of the offense.
An adult who is more than 2 years older than the sender or recipient of such images can be charged with illegal sexting, which is a felony.
Other charges that could be applied in such cases include distributing sexual images to a minor, promoting sexual performance by a minor and distributing or possessing child pornography. The last can carry a prison sentence of 2 to 20 years in Texas and a fine of up to $10,000.
Child sexual assault penalties are severe
Penalties for sexual assault of a child can be even more severe—especially when the victim is under the age of 14. Then, the charge is not sexual assault of a child—a 2nd-degree felony with possible punishment of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine—but aggravated sexual assault of a child, which is a 1st-degree felony with possible punishment of life in prison.
Other sex crimes involving children also can bring harsh punishments.
Continuous sexual abuse of a child is another 1st-degree felony which can bring punishments as severe as life in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.
Indecency with a child by contact that does not involve penetration is a 2nd-degree felony. Its punishments can be as many as 20 years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.
Indecency with a child by exposure is a 3rd-degree felony. Its punishments can include as much as a 10-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
Get an experienced Houston sex crime defense lawyer
As you can see, persons who face such claims, allegations or charges in the Houston area must get a skilled and experienced Houston sex crime defense lawyer to fight for their legal rights.
As much as 10 percent of all claims of child sexual abuse have been found to be false, often the result of a case of mistaken identity or a person trying to take revenge or gain leverage in a child custody battle.
According to the non-profit Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence, one study showed a rate of 4.7 percent to 7.6 percent of false allegations among reports of child sex abuse. Another study found a rate of 2 to 10 percent of child abuse claims were false.