If you face a claim, allegation or charge of sexual assault or some other sex offense in Texas, you may be wondering what is the burden of proof for Texas sex crimes. For legal advice on your specific case, consult a Houston criminal defense law firm near you that specializes in sex crime cases.
In the meantime, here’s a general overview of the standards followed in most Texas cases.
The standard of proof for a sex crime in Texas is what is known as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that prosecutors have the legal burden of proof to establish that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In doing so, prosecutors must show that no other logical rationale or explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime. Such proof must apply to every element of the offense that is charged.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” does not mean certainty or absolute proof. But it is considered to be close to absolute certainty. As such, it is the highest legal standard.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is also a standard of proof throughout the United States, as established by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. It has been affirmed by several U.S. Supreme Court rulings, such as in the cases of Fiore v. White, Leland v. Oregon and Brinegar v. United States.
Keep in mind that in order for a jury to find that a defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that jury must begin the proceedings with a presumption of the defendant’s innocence. Prosecutors then must establish enough evidence otherwise to show that there is not enough reasonable doubt to conclude that the defendant is innocent.
Courts have established there are 2 parts of the reasonable doubt standard. These are the burden of persuasion and the burden of production.
The burden of persuasion requires prosecutors to persuade a jury that they’ve established every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of production requires prosecutors to produce enough evidence to put a fact in issue and establish every element of the offense charged.
In a Texas sexual assault trial, prosecutors cannot prove guilt by means of other standards of proof which are commonly applied to civil (non-criminal) proceedings. These standards are “a preponderance of evidence” (which still may leave room for doubt) or “clear and convincing evidence” (which shows something was highly probable).
This is the highest standard of proof, and it’s applied to criminal trials for such things as sexual assault because the stakes are so high. A defendant could receive a prison sentence of as many as 99 years if convicted of a sex crime.
In addition to establishing the burden of proof, prosecutors who wish to charge someone with a crime and then argue for their conviction at trial must also abide by Texas statutes of limitations for such crimes. These statutes set limits on how much time can pass before a charge no longer can be made.
In Texas, there is no limit on the time which can pass for a person to be charged with the following sex crimes:
The statute of limitations for Texas sex crimes drops to 20 years for these crimes:
The statute drops even lower, to 10 years, for these sex crimes:
Be advised that the word “rape” is not a part of Texas sex crime law, which instead concerns various forms of “sexual assault.”
Some prosecutors in Travis County, home of Austin, have said it’s hard to prove a rape case beyond a reasonable doubt. They cite the Texas Penal Code’s definition of sexual assault as part of the problem, since it places an emphasis on physical force, violence or coercion.
That means it’s not enough for an alleged victim to have said “no” and thus not given consent to a sexual act. Instead, it must be shown that the victim’s refusal was overcome by force.
With these factors in mind, several defenses present themselves to a charge of sexual assault, which is a second-degree felony in Texas.
One strategy involves what is known as an “affirmative defense.” This means that a defense attorney proves facts by means of a preponderance of evidence — evidence which shows that his or her client is innocent. Prosecutors still must try to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. But if the defense lawyer can convince a jury that the facts supporting an affirmative defense are true, the jury should find the defendant not guilty.
In Texas, an affirmative defense for sexual assault applies only to a child sexual assault charge. The defense then can show that the defendant was married to the child, if that was the case.
Or, the defense can show that the age difference between the defendant and the alleged victim is 3 years or less, the defendant is not already a sex offender, the alleged victim was at least 14 years old, and the 2 were not prohibited from being married under Texas bigamy law or prohibited from engaging in sexual contact under Texas law against incest (a factor added to the penal code in September 2019 and not impacting earlier crimes).
If you face an allegation or charge of sexual assault in Houston, Sugar Land, The Woodlands or elsewhere in the Houston area, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect your legal rights.
Contact the Neal Davis Law Firm for a confidential legal review of your sexual assault case. We can advise you on how to proceed, and then you can decide what course you want to take.
Learn all about the legal process and your legal rights.