CCA Holds: Medical Care Defense Not Limited to Medical Personnel

By February 14, 2012Sex Crimes

Defense to sexual assaultTexas Penal Code Section 22.021(a) provides that a person commits aggravated sexual assault if the person intentionally or knowingly causes the penetration “by any means” of the anus or sexual organ of a child younger than 14 years of age. Section 22.021(d) provides that “it is a defense to prosecution…that the conduct [constituting the offense] consisted of medical care for the child and did not include any contact between the anus or sexual organ of the child and mouth, anus, or sexual organ of the actor[.]

During the trial of Walter Cornet, for the alleged aggravated sexual assault of his eight year-old step-daughter, the defendant sought to use the medical care defense. The defendant alleged that after his step-daughter complained to him that her older brothers had had sex with her, he, acting as a parent, conducted an examination of her genitals (anus and labia) using his fingers. The trial court refused to instruct the jury on the medical care defense. The defendant was convicted.

On appeal to the 8th District Court of Appeals (El Paso), the Court affirmed the conviction and held that:

the [medical care] defense “is not meant to apply…in cases…when the parent suspects his child has been sexually abused and proceeds, without any medical education, training, or experience, to examine the area.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accepted appellant’s petition for discretionary review to settle the issue. Can a parent, untrained in the medical field, claim the medical care defense, under Section 22.021(d) of the Texas Penal Code? The CCA said YES and overturned the 8th Court’s decision.

Writing for a 5-4 majority (on this issue only), Judge Price explained in Cornet v. State:

The text of the statute makes it abundantly clear that it is the nature of the “conduct,” not the occupation of the actor, that characterized the availability of the defense. Nowhere in [Section 22.021(d)] is there any mention or suggestion that the availability of the defense is limited to health-care professionals; and for this Court of read such a restriction into the defense would impermissibly “add or detract from [the] statute.”

The CCA remanded the case to the lower court to conduct a harm analysis.

Judge Cochran dissented. She states that “[w]hen asserting a ‘medical care’ defense, the defendant bears the burden of offering some evidence that his conduct was, in fact, a legitimate, accepted medical methodology.” She goes on to note that:

[i]f this [procedure performed by appellant] meets any common-sense description of accepted or acceptable medical care, the children of Texas are in big trouble. Never mind that there was not a scintilla of evidence that appellant had any medical training, medical expertise, or that this “home exam” methodology was accepted by any medical provider anywhere as an acceptable one. There is no legal defense to sexual assault for a step-father, fried, priest, or big brother to “check-out” the situation by penetrating the anus and genitals of a child because that child had told him that she had had sex with anyone.

Judge Cochran believes that appellant’s defense fails as a matter of law.