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Child Sexual Assault Archives | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys and Personal Injury Lawyers

Sex Offender Deregistration Texas

Sex Offender Deregistration | Early Termination of Offender Registration

By | Sex Crimes

Sex Offender Deregistration TexasIn 2005, the Texas legislature enacted House Bill 867, which allows for the early termination of the requirement for an individual to register as a sex offender if it is determined that the person is no longer a continuing threat to society.

If you have been required to register as a sex offender in Texas, you may be eligible for this deregistration after a minimum time of registration. Whether you will be eligible for early termination will depend on whether the registerable offense meets specific criteria under State and Federal laws. In addition to determining whether your offense meets these criteria, there are other procedures you must follow and a judicial order that must be granted in order to obtain early termination. Because of the intricacies of this process and the requirement of filing for the judicial order, we recommend that you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you with the sex offender deregistration process.

Do I Qualify for Early Termination of My Obligation to Register as a Sex Offender?

1. ONLY 1 CONVICTION: The first requirement to qualify for deregistration as a sex offender is that you must only have one single reportable adjudication or conviction that requires registration under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 62.

2. EXCEED THE FEDERAL MINIMUM TIME: The second requirement is that the minimum registration period for your reportable conviction must exceed the minimum required registration under Federal Law. Eligible offenses can be found here. For most offenses, the Federal minimum is 10 years. Texas Code of Criminal Chapter 62 specifically states that if an offense is not on this list, then it does not qualify.

Application to the Council on Sex Offender Treatment

To determine eligibility, you must submit an application to the Council of Sex Offender Treatment. To do this, you must fill out the Initial Eligibility Checklist. You will also need to obtain your Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI criminal histories. It might take a few weeks, but the Council on Sex Offender Treatment will respond by sending you a letter telling you whether you are an eligible candidate for deregistration.

If Eligible, What are the Next Steps to Deregister as a Sex Offender in Texas?

Just because an offense meets the initial requirements of deregistration, it does not mean that the person automatically qualifies for deregistration. While initially eligible, the person must move to the next steps of the procedure.

Deregistration Evaluation

Once it is determined that an offense is eligible, the next step to deregister is to undergo a risk assessment known as a Deregistration Evaluation. The person applying for deregistration is financially responsible for paying for this risk assessment and this assessment must be conducted by one of the 22 deregistration specialists that have been authorized by the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment. Your attorney can put you in contact with one of these specialists to have them conduct the assessment.

Judicial Order from the Original Court

The final step is to obtain an Order Granting Early Termination from a judge. To obtain an Order you must submit a Motion for Early Termination to the judge in the court that originally presided over your case. This motion must also be accompanied by certified copy of the risk assessment report prepared by the specialist in addition to a written explanation of the offense’s eligibility. After filing this Motion, the court will likely grant you a hearing by the judge where you will have an opportunity to present evidence to pursuade the judge to sign the Order Granting Early Termination. Because of this process, it’s highly recommended that you have an attorney who can help you with this process and hearing.

Are There Any Other Processes to Avoid Registering as a Sex Offender?

Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Section 42.017 and 42A.105, there are some limited remedies available to a person that’s otherwise required to register as a sex offender due to an offense of Indecency with a Child or Sexual Assault. Specifically, for these offenses, if:

  1. at the time of the offense, you were not more than four years older than the victim or intended victim and the victim or intended victim was at least 15 years of age, and
  2. the conviction is based solely on the ages of the defendant and the victim or intended victim at the time of the offense. Also, this must be the result of a single reportable adjudication or conviction.

If the above criteria are met, then under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 62.301, a person may petition the court anytime at or after the date of the person’s sentencing for an exemption to register as a sex offender. An order issued under this exemption does not expire, but the court is required to withdraw the order if a person receives a subsequent reportable conviction or adjudication.

What Happens if an Order for Early Termination of the Duty to Register as a Sex Offender is Granted?

If deregistration is granted, then a person is no longer required to register as a sex offender. Getting an order for early termination does not destroy the records or remove the conviction from a person’s record, but it does mean that the threat of a new felony case being filed for failure to register is no longer a possibility. Your name will also be removed from the Texas Sex Offender Registry database.

Free Consultation | Tarrant County Deregistration Attorneys

If, after reading this article, you believe that you or a loved one might qualify for sex offender deregistration, contact our team today for a free case evaluation. We would be happy to help you get the sex offender registration requirement behind you. Contact us at (817) 993-9249.

Innocent DNA Transfer in Laundry

Innocent Transfer of DNA Through a Load of Laundry

By | DNA

What is Transfer DNA and Why is it Important in Criminal Cases?

Innocent DNA Transfer in LaundryWhen a person thinks of DNA evidence, they typically think of blood, semen, or some sort of bodily fluid left at a crime scene that indicates a suspect in a crime. However, this is no longer the case. With the advances in technology, DNA can be detected from just sitting near another person. In a study done by Australian forensic scientist Roland van Oorschot, he found that in 50% of volunteers who sat at a table and shared a jug of juice they ended up with another’s DNA on their hands. The volunteers never touched one another and some of the DNA found was from individuals who were not even at the table. They found that DNA was much easier to transfer than anyone had previously thought.  This means that at any given crime scene, there could be hundreds of DNA profiles. The DNA found by investigators could be from an innocent person or the suspect. This is concerning because, while there is a way to discover whose DNA it is, there is not a way to discern how it got there. Who’s to say they won’t find yours?

The DNA Phantom Case From Germany

That is exactly what happened in the case of the Phantom of Heilbronn. In Germany, DNA from one woman was found at crimes scenes ranging from murders to thefts. This woman’s DNA was connected to 40 crimes extending as far back as 1993 and covering the countries of Germany, Austria, and France. However, the DNA that was found did not belong to the perpetrator, it belonged to a woman who made the cotton swabs used to collect DNA samples from the crime scene. Even though the cotton swabs went through the proper sterilization process, they still contained traceable amounts of DNA. The Phantom of Heilbronn is an example of how easily DNA can be innocently transferred to a crime scene.

How DNA Can Be Transferred Through Laundry in Child Sexual Assault Cases

When it comes to child sexual abuse cases, researchers have found that DNA can be transferred innocently by the laundry even after clothes are supposed to be “clean.” A Canadian study discovered that when undergarments are washed with sheets containing bodily fluids, the undergarment too will have DNA on them. The DNA from the sheets transfers to the undergarments in the washer and the washer itself. This is problematic because a person’s DNA can end up on every household member’s clothing in one wash. This DNA can later be collected during an investigation, but investigators might make the wrong assumption as to how it got there.

To help distinguish between innocent DNA transfer from laundering and DNA that was left during a crime, the researchers studied the location of the DNA on the items of clothing. In the process of this experiment, the findings strongly suggest that bodily fluids that were transferred during laundering were absorbed deeper into the fabric. Swab samples that yield significant quantities of bodily fluids are indicative of the fluid being deposited directly on the clothing as opposed to transfer during laundering. DNA that is transferred during the laundering process is both found in a different location and lesser in quantity than DNA deposited through abuse.

What Does This Mean for the Future of DNA Analysis?

The findings from this research are important for the future of DNA evidence, especially in the case of child sexual abuse cases. This research shows that DNA does not immediately indicate sexual abuse. This research emphasizes that the mere presence of DNA on a child’s undergarments does not confirm abuse. Investigators should gather all available evidence before they come to a conclusion.

Megans Law Sex Offender Passport

Passports Revoked for Sex Offenders Pursuant to New Law

By | Sex Crimes

Megan’s Law and the Implications for Passports of Registered Sex Offenders

Sex Offender Passport LawIn February of 2016, we wrote about President Obama signing Megan’s Law and the implications that the law would have on passports.

Effective January 11, 2018, in accordance with Megan’s Law, the U.S. State Department has started to revoke passports issued to registered sex offenders. The law was passed October 31, 2017 but is now in effect. This law prevents the Department of State from issuing passports to sex offenders without a unique identifier printed on the person’s passport and authorizes the State Department to immediately revoke all passports currently held by registered sex offenders that do not contain this identifier.

Required Endorsement for Sex Offender Passports

Passports re-issued to registered sex offenders will now bear an endorsement on the passport, which will read:

“The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).”

According to federal law, endorsements cannot be printed on passport cards, so qualifying individuals will not be issued passport cards.

This new procedure by the State Department does not prohibit registered sex offenders from leaving the country. But, it certainly leads to the presumption that this identifying marker on these passports could very likely lead to these individuals being denied entry into other countries.

In the coming weeks, the Department of State will be sending letters to those individuals covered under this law notifying them that their passports are now revoked.

There are a wide number of crimes that can lead to a person being on the sex offender registry. These crimes can include sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child, online solicitation of a minor and viewing or sharing child pornography (either inadvertently or on purpose).

For more information, visit the Department of State website.

 

Lee v State Continuous Sexual Abuse Texas 2017

Can an Out-of-State Conviction Be Used to Establish “Continuous” Abuse?

By | Sex Crimes

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Holds That An Out-of-State Conviction Cannot Be Used to Establish “Continuous Sexual Abuse” Under Texas Law

Lee v State Continuous Sexual Abuse Texas 2017The Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion regarding the use of an out-of-state act to support a conviction in Texas. The issue faced by the Court was whether the commission of an out-of-state aggravated sexual assault could support a conviction for continuous sexual abuse of a child under Texas law.

Lee v. State (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 2017)

The Facts—The Trial Court Found Defendant Guilty of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child

In this case, Ronald Lee (Defendant) was convicted of continuous sexual assault of a child and the jury assessed a life sentence. During trial, evidence showed that Defendant committed aggravated sexual assault against his young stepdaughter twice, once in New Jersey and once in Texas. Both assaults were temporally separated by at least 30 days.

Texas Penal Code Section 21.02 prohibits the commission of two or more acts of sexual abuse over a specified time. Although committed in two separate states, the trial court permitted the evidence of both sexual assaults in New Jersey and Texas in order to convict Defendant.

The Court of Appeals Affirmed the Conviction, Holding that the Evidence was Legally Sufficient to Support the Conviction

On appeal, Defendant claimed that the evidence presented—the alleged act in New Jersey—was insufficient to support his conviction in Texas. The court of appeals held that because Defendant was charged and convicted under Texas Penal Code Section 21.01 for continuous sexual abuse, Texas has jurisdiction if part of the prohibited conduct element occurred in Texas. Further, the court determined that the location of the sexual abuse was not an element of the offense; thus, the State’s only obligation was to prove that the court of prosecution had venue—proper jurisdiction. As a result, because one of the alleged acts of sexual abuse occurred in Taylor County, the court of appeals said that the evidence was sufficient to prove venue.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reforms the Judgment to a Lesser-Included Offense Conviction, Holding the Evidence was Legally Insufficient to Support the Original Conviction

Defendant appealed the appellate court’s decision to affirm his conviction. He argued that the alleged act of abuse in New Jersey was not sufficient proof required under the Texas Penal Code, which requires two or more violations of penal code sections. Each of these required offenses must be a violation of Texas law. Texas only has jurisdiction over an offense if either an action element or result element of the offense occurs inside the state. Because “act of sexual abuse” requires an act that is a violation of Texas law, Defendant’s act in New Jersey may not be considered one of the required offenses for a conviction under Section 21.02. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Texas had jurisdiction of continuous sexual abuse of a child, but the evidence in this case was insufficient to support the conviction because one of the acts was not a violation of Texas law.

When an appellate court finds that the evidence was insufficient to support a charged offense, but the jury found the defendant guilty of a lesser offense supported by sufficient evidence, then the appellate court must reform the judgment to reflect the lesser-included offense and remand for new punishment. In this case, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the jury found Defendant guilty of aggravated sexual assault, which was the lesser-included offense, and remanded the case for a punishment hearing.

Judge Yeary’s Concurring Opinion

psychosexual evaluation sex offender risk assessment

Psychosexual Evaluations: A Risk Assessment for Sexual Allegation Cases

By | Sex Crimes

psychosexual evaluation sex offender risk assessmentA psychosexual evaluation is a method utilized by courts, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to provide a scientific basis to determine with a person is likely to be a repeat sexual offender. The evaluation is performed by a state-licensed mental health professional and, if requested by the defense, it is completely confidential for the client and their attorney.

Psychosexual evaluations are routinely performed to:

  • Identify deviant sexual behavior patterns
  • Evaluate the risk level of sexual and non-sexual recidivism
  • Recommend the type of treatment options that will be most beneficial to the client
  • Identify specific risk factors that should be targeted during treatment

Explaining the Psychosexual Evaluation Process

How long does the evaluation last?

The evaluation usually lasts a full day, but can sometimes spill over into a second day. However, the entire evaluation can be completed in about six hours. A typical schedule for the evaluation will last from 8:30am – 5:00pm, with breaks between sections of tests.

The Evaluation Consists of Four Parts

  1. Clinical interview
  2. Psychometric tests
  3. Physiological assessment of sexual arousal
  4. Risk assessment

Clinical Interview

The clinical interview lasts about one hour and serves to help the therapist and the client get to know each other before the tests begin. It also gives the client an opportunity to talk about the allegation with the therapist. This is the point where the therapist will document their initial impressions and provide detailed notes on the client. It is important that the person is honest and open about the nature of the allegation. If conducted at the request of the individual’s attorney, the evaluation is covered under the attorney-client privilege and the attorney cannot disclose the results or what was said without the client’s permission.

Psychometric Tests

The psychometric tests are comprised of a personality inventory, sexual inventory, and intelligence test. These tests are primarily in written formats, including true or false questions. The personality inventory allows the therapist to evaluate the client’s personality type, which will be factored in throughout the assessment. The sexual inventory is the longest portion, consisting of about 560 items. It is a thorough assessment of the client’s sexual history, background, and development. Again, this portion of the test factors into the therapist’s overall assessment of the client’s situation. The final portion is the intelligence test. This portion only lasts about twenty minutes and is essentially an IQ test. The intelligence test is important because it allows the therapist to effectively advocate that the client can handle the mental demands of treatment.

Physiological Assessment of Sexual Arousal

The physiological assessment helps the therapist understand whether the allegation would be outlier behavior for the client or not. This is primarily achieved by gaining an understanding of the client’s sexual preferences using the penile plethysmograph (PPG). The PPG operates by measuring blood pressure and erectile changes in the penis of the client due to the introduction of different visual stimuli. The PPG also monitors the client’s breathing to determine whether they’re attempting to deliberately falsify the results. Because accurate results are required for the therapist to make a strong evaluation on behalf of the client, the client should not attempt to cheat the PPG. Due to the nature of the visual stimuli and the physical intrusiveness of the PPG, this is considered the most difficult part of the evaluation for individuals being tested.

Rarely, a polygraph will also be performed. The polygraph is only used when the client denies any actual physical contact because the chance of recidivism is greatly diminished if there is no physical contact. If the polygraph is failed, then the results will not be used in the therapist’s evaluation because they do not indicate anything significant about the client’s situation.

Risk Assessment

The risk assessment consists of two parts, general criminality and sexual recidivism. The general criminality portion determines the client’s risk of recommitting crimes, while the sexual recidivism portion determines the client’s risk of recommitting sexual crimes. This part of the psychosexual assessment is extremely important because it allows the therapist to assign the client a risk profile to reoffend, both in general criminality and in sexual criminality. The therapist’s testimony that the client is a low risk to reoffend can be crucial for the defense in asserting that the client does not deserve a harsh punishment for the original allegation.

Confidentiality

When the psychosexual evaluation is obtained as part of the defense case preparation, it is completely confidential. Only the client and his attorney will be provided with it. Neither the client’s spouse nor any government entity can see the evaluation, unless it is used in court, and the defense attorney will only use the evaluation in court if it is beneficial to the client’s case. The evaluation is occasionally used at trial, but it is more often used during the plea-bargaining stage to improve the client’s case or during a sentencing portion of a trial.

Advice for Clients and Attorneys Regarding Psychosexual Evaluations

Clients should be honest with the therapist because it allows for a more reliable and accurate evaluation, which will be more beneficial to the client’s case. If the client lies or attempts to cheat the tests, the therapist will not be able to provide a good evaluation and may not be able to testify as well on behalf of the client.

Attorneys should provide information the therapist regarding the charges being made against the client (within the limits of discovery laws). Not only does this allow the therapist to factor that into the evaluation, but it also bolsters their testimony in court as they have accounted for the charges and facts of the case already. The stronger and more complete the therapist’s evaluation, the more likely that it will stand up in court against tough cross-examination.

sexting laws texas

When Is “Sexting” a Crime in Texas?

By | Sex Crimes

sexting laws texas“Sexting” has become a very popular activity amongst teenagers and young adults in the last several years. This generation sees it as just another ordinary part of life with cell phones. For parents, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers, however, sexting is a dangerous habit that has wide-ranging effects. While sexting has the potential to severely damage lives and reputations, the very nature of it makes it difficult for authorities to adequately address the problems it causes. This article will explore what sexting is, how common it is, the applicable laws, and the practical implications of applying those laws to common instances of sexting.

What Is Sexting?

Sexting is derived from the words “sex” and “texting.” It means the sending of nude or sexually explicit photos or sexually suggestive text messages by text, email, or instant messenger using a mobile device. Many times, the person depicted in the photographs has either consented to the photo being taken or has taken the pictures of themselves. Typically, the person in the photograph, either on their own initiative or at the request of another, takes the photo and then voluntarily sends it to a significant other or a person they are attracted to. The intent is generally for the picture to be kept private by the initial recipient.

The problem with sexting arises when the photograph is either posted on the internet, usually through a social media platform, or is shared with others through text or email. In many cases, this posting or sharing is not consented to by the person depicted in the picture.

How Common is Sexting?

A study done by Drexel University in 2015 found that over 80% of adults surveyed admitted to sexting within the last year. The study was presented during the American Psychological Association’s 2015 convention. According to GuardChild.com, 20% of all teenagers have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves and 39% of teenagers have sent sexually suggestive messages through either email, text, or instant messaging.

Criminal Laws Applicable to Texting in Texas

In the State of Texas, there are several laws which could be used to prosecute instances of sexting, especially if it involves a minor. These laws can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.

Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material

Texas law makes it unlawful for a person to intentionally disclose photographs or videos of a person engaged in sexual conduct or with their intimate parts exposed without the consent of the person depicted if the person in the photo/video had a reasonable expectation that the material would remain private, the person depicted is harmed and the identity of the person in the photo/video is revealed through the disclosure. This is a Class A misdemeanor.

Sale, Distribution, or Display of Harmful Material to a Minor

A person who sells, distributes, or shows “harmful material” to a minor, knowing that the material is harmful and the person is a minor, or displays harmful material and is reckless about whether a minor is present who would be offended is guilty of this offense in Texas. This is a Class A misdemeanor unless the person uses a minor to commit the offense, and then it is a third-degree felony.

Sexual Performance by a Child

The offense of sexual performance of a child is committed when a person employs, authorizes, or induces a child under the age of 18 to engage in sexual conduct. In this context, “sexual conduct” includes the lewd exhibition of the genitals, anus or breast. This offense is a third-degree felony, but if the victim was under the age of 14 at the time of the offense, then it is enhanced to a second-degree felony.

Possession or Promotion of Child Pornography

A person commits the offense of possession or promotion of child pornography if he intentionally or knowingly promotes or possesses with the intent to promote material that depicts a child engaged in sexual conduct knowing that the material depicts a child. This is a third-degree felony, but it can be enhanced to a second or first-degree felony.

The Sexting Law – Electronic Transmission of Certain Visual Material Depicting Minor

This is Texas’ “sexting” statute. Under it, a person under the age of 18 commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly possesses or promotes to another minor visual material that depicts a minor engaged in sexual conduct by electronic means if he produced the material or knows that another minor produced it. This is a Class C misdemeanor, but it can be enhanced to either a Class B or Class A misdemeanor in certain situations.

Practical Implications

An instance of sexting in Texas can be prosecuted under any of the above laws. However, there are problems with each of these statutes that makes it difficult to prosecute sexting cases under them. These problems are what led the Texas legislature to create the sexting law several years ago.

Problems with the Sexting Law

However, there are two major problems with this law. First, the sexting statute only applies to persons under the age of 18. This means that an 18-year-old high school student who shares sexting photos with others in his high school cannot be prosecuted under this law. The second problem with it is that it creates a defense to prosecution if the person in possession of the visual material destroys it. So, the law that makes sexting illegal also allows those who break the law to get away with it by destroying the evidence. Because of these problems, it is almost impossible to prosecute someone under this law.

Problems with Using the Other Laws to Prosecute Sexting

The main issue with using the other laws laid out above to prosecute sexting cases is that they were not created to address this specific behavior. So, it becomes a situation where prosecutors are having to shove a square peg into a round hole to make it work in many cases. For instance, the Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material law requires that the person in the pictures had a reasonable expectation that the photos would remain private. GuardChild.com found in their compilation of sexting statistics that 44% of teenagers believe it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to be shared with others, and 35-40% of them feel that it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to be shared with others beyond the intended recipient. These beliefs undermine the “reasonable expectation of privacy” prong of the law.

Similarly, the Possession or Promotion of Child Pornography statute is problematic when used in sexting cases because it does not include any protections from prosecution for the victim. This means that when a teen age girl takes a nude photo of herself and sends it to her boyfriend, who then shares it with other students, the girl who took the photo of herself is as guilty of promotion of child pornography as the boy who shared it with others. Most people would agree that the victim shouldn’t face charges for child pornography. Yet, prosecutors must either prosecute both of them or do nothing.

Sex Offender Registration for a Sexting Conviction

Another major practical ramification of sexting is that if a person is convicted or adjudicated for sexting under the possession or promotion of child pornography law, he will be required to register as a sex offender for life if the person is prosecuted in the adult system or for ten years past the end of his sentence if he is adjudicated as a juvenile. Depending on the facts of the case, this can be a very harsh consequence for a behavior that is so common in this modern world we live in. But it is important for anyone who engages in sexting, and their parents, to realize that sex offender registration for life is a very real possibility if prosecuted.

Conclusion

While many parents may not know that sexting even exists, the fact remains that it is much more common than we would like to think. It can have devastating consequences for the person depicted in the photos, and for anyone who shares or possesses these photos. Many teenagers engage in this behavior without realizing what the ramifications can be.

This is one area where the law hasn’t caught up to technology yet. So, the job of protecting our children from the harms associated with sexting still falls primarily to parents. It is important for parents to educate themselves about the practice and then talk to their teenagers and pre-teens about the dangers of sexting.

 

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Sexsomnia Sleep Sex

“Sexsomnia” or “Sleep Sex” May Be a Defense to Sex Crime Allegations

By | Sex Crimes

Is Sleep Sex a Real Thing and How Can it Apply to Sexual Allegations?

Sexsomnia Sleep SexYou may have heard of sleepwalking, or sleeptalking, but what about sleep sex? The idea of sleep sex or “sexsomnia” is typically worth a few laughs when you first hear about it, but it is a very real disorder within the parasomnia umbrella of disorders (classified by the DSM-V).  Google it (with caution, of course).  You’ll find many articles discussing real people that suffer from sexsomnia.

What is “Sexsomnia?”

Also called “sleep sex,” sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia, where the brain is caught in transition between sleeping and waking states. As with other parasomnias — including sleepwalking, sleep talking, and, sleep driving — someone who is sleep sexing can seem fully awake and aware, even as he or she is masturbating, or fondling, initiating intercourse with, or even sexually assaulting a bed partner. But he or she truly is asleep.

See Web MD.  There have been several sleep studies and scholarly articles on sleep sex as experts learn more about sexsomnia.

How Does Sleep Sex Apply to a Sex Crime Allegation?

As you can imagine, some criminal defense attorneys have used sexsomnia as a defense to sexual assault allegations. Prosecutors are even being trained on how to overcome the sleep sex defense. But sexsomnia does not apply to every case. The factual allegations often do not support sexsomnia as a viable defense to sexual crimes cases.  But sometimes they do.  An article published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2014 explored 9 criminal cases in which sexsomnia was used as a defense to sexual allegations.  The jury found the defendant not guilty in 7 of the 9 cases.

To establish a viable sexsomnia defense, the defense should be prepared to present witnesses that can establish a pattern of unusual sleep behaviors for the accused.  Further, the defense should look for other things that are known “triggers” for sleep sex, like alcohol use, sleep deprivation, emotional stress, and certain medications. This is a starting point to consider pursuing such a defense and should be coupled with all other typical defense investigatory avenues.

While a sexsomnia defense may cause the jury to chuckle as they think about a person having sex while the person is asleep, it can carry the day if the facts support the defense.  It should not be used as a gimmick.  With the right experts and the right witnesses, a sleep sex defense might just be the truth that sets a person free.

Juvenile Sex Crime Diversion Tarrant County

Project SAFeR: Juvenile Sex Crime Diversion Program in Fort Worth

By | Juvenile

Treatment without Labels: An Effective Program for Juveniles Charged with a Sex Crime in Tarrant County

Juvenile Sex Crime Diversion Tarrant CountyImagine this: You receive a call out of the blue from a detective telling you that he is investigating your 11-year-old son for sexually touching your 6-year-old niece. How do you protect your young son who is being charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child? How do you choose between helping your son and helping your niece? Is there any way to get them both help without prosecuting your son? Will your son be labeled a sex offender for the rest of his life? Is there any way for your extended family to work this out?

While this may seem far-fetched, it happens more than you think. Fortunately, there is now a program in Tarrant County that can help without destroying the life of either child involved. It is called Project SAFeR.

What is Project SAFeR?

Project SAFeR (which stands for Safety and Family Resiliency) is a program in Tarrant County designed to help youth with problematic sexual behaviors who are between the ages of 7-12. There are three components to the program: legal, supervision, and counseling. The program, which started in July 2015, was created through a collaborative effort of Lena Pope Home, Alliance for Children, Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, Child Protective Services (CPS), Tarrant County Juvenile Services, and local law enforcement. The purpose of the program is to help the victim, young juvenile, and their families deal with the problem in an effective way so that both children may go on to lead productive lives.

What is Problematic Sexual Behavior?

Problematic sexual behavior is that which is goes beyond what is normal sexual development for a child’s age. It usually involves children who are quite a bit different in age or who are not considered equals due to maturity, size, or other factors. A child with problematic sexual behaviors will act out on another child who is not a willing participant, either through the use of force, threats, bribery, or some other type of coercion or persuasion. Problematic sexual behaviors interfere with normal, nonsexual, childhood interests and behaviors, and usually continue even after a child’s behavior has been discovered and reprimanded.

The Legal Component of Project SAFeR

Because kids under the age of 10 cannot be prosecuted for their actions in Texas, children between the ages of 7-9 who have problematic sexual behaviors, can be referred to the counseling program but will not be required to participate in the diversion or supervision components. For these children, a parent can contact Lena Pope Home in Fort Worth at 817-255-2500 for help (see below for more specifics on the counseling component).

For children between the ages of 10-12, law enforcement and/or CPS will likely be involved to some extent. Many times, these cases will be referred to Tarrant County Juvenile Services and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office Juvenile Unit.

In order to be eligible to participate in the legal, or diversion, component of Project SAFeR, the charged juvenile must be between the ages of 10-12. If a juvenile is older than 12, he will be ineligible for the diversion program. Other eligibility requirements for the program are:

  • A multi-disciplinary team must decide that the case is appropriate for inclusion in the program based on the totality of the circumstances. This team screens cases for the program while they are still being investigated by CPS and law enforcement.
  • The victim’s family must agree to the charged juvenile being in the program. If the victim’s family does not agree, this alone will make the juvenile ineligible.
  • A risk assessment, which will be completed by the counselors involved in the program, must show the charged juvenile to be at a low risk to reoffend.

If all of these requirements are met, a juvenile’s case will be filed with the court by the prosecutor. The child will appear before a juvenile court judge and must admit to committing the offense. The judge will make a finding that there is enough evidence to find the juvenile guilty of the offense, but the judge will instead withhold judgement on the issue of delinquency and order the child into Project SAFeR.

If the juvenile successfully completes the supervision and counseling components of the program, the prosecutor will dismiss the case. If, however, the child is kicked out of the program, then he will return to court and will be found delinquent at that time and then will proceed to the disposition, or punishment, stage of the case. A juvenile who successfully completes Project SAFeR will, as a condition of the program, be eligible to have his record sealed upon his 16th birthday.

The Supervision Component of Project SAFeR

The supervision component of Project SAFeR is provided by Tarrant County Juvenile Services. If the child is allowed into the program, he will be assigned a juvenile probation officer who is a part of the Juvenile Offender Unit. The term of supervision will be up to 6 months in length. During that time, the juvenile must complete the counseling component of the program as well as go to school, not commit any new offenses, and obey his parents/guardians. The probation officer will check in on the juvenile, as well as check with his counselor and parents, on a regular basis while in the program.

The Sexual Counseling Component of Project SAFeR

The counseling piece of the program is provided by Lena Pope Home at their Fort Worth location. Both the child charged and at least one caregiver will be required to attend all counseling sessions while in the program. The counseling is once a week (on Monday nights) for 18 weeks.

The juvenile will attend a child’s group at the same time that his caregiver is attending a parents’ group each week. The two groups will be learning the similar material at the same time. So, for instance, during the week that the juvenile is learning the sexual behavior rules, his parent will be learning how to enforce those sexual behavior rules in the home. In addition to learning about sexual behavior rules and appropriate relationships, those in the program will also learn communication skills and stress relief strategies. Both the juvenile and parent must demonstrate that they have learned and are implementing the information taught in order to successfully complete the program. The counseling is provided free of charge to those in the program.

Outcomes and Benefits of Project SAFer

While this program has only been in existence in Tarrant County for a little over a year, it has been implemented in other parts of the country for many years. The program in Omaha, Nebraska, recently completed a 10-year follow-up study on those juveniles who completed their program. They found that of those who successfully completed the program, less than 2% committed a new sexual offense. This is a much lower reoffending rate than traditional sex offending treatment programs.

The majority of those who have been accepted into the Tarrant County Project SAFeR program have graduated. Many of those parents have indicated that the information they learned in the program not only helped them handle their children’s sexual behavior problems, but it also taught them to be better parents in general. The techniques and strategies taught in the counseling component have also been instrumental in helping parents to communicate better and have better relationships with their children. It has brought these families closer together.

Project SAFeR is taking a whole new approach to treating children with problematic sexual behaviors. It starts with NOT labeling or treating them as sex offenders. It approaches the problem from a family-focused point of view and treats it as a serious problem that the family can get through together, as opposed to treating the juvenile as if he is a sex offender who is doomed for the rest of his life. If your child is between the ages of 10-12 and is facing prosecution for a sex crime in Tarrant County, ask your attorney about whether Project SAFeR is the right approach for you and your family.

About the Author

Christy Dunn is a writer and attorney licensed to practice in Texas. She was a prosecutor for 15 years. The last five years of her prosecutorial career was spent in the Juvenile Division of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. She has tried over 20 juvenile cases in Texas and multiple certification hearings. She was part of the multidisciplinary team that created a Project SAFeR.

United States Age of Consent Map

What is the Age of Consent in the United States?

By | Sex Crimes

Is There a Uniform Age of Consent for all 50 States in the United States?

No, there is not a uniform age of consent. The “Age of Consent” is the minimum age at which a person may consent to participation in sexual intercourse. A person younger than the legal age of consent cannot legally consent to sexual activity. The age of consent in the United States ranges from 16 to 18 years old depending on the state, meaning that a person 15 years of age or younger cannot legally consent to sexual contact. Each state enacts its owns laws which set the age of consent.  If someone engages in sexual activity with a person younger than the age of consent in that state, the person could be charged with Statutory Rape or other offenses depending on the nature of the contact.

What follows is a map depicting the age of consent for all 50 states and a chart outlining the same.

*Note: This chart was current as of 2016, but could be subject to change over the years. Please do not rely on this chart to make any decisions that could impact your life. Check your own state’s age of consent laws to make sure you are fully informed, because ignorance of the law will not be a defense for you if charged with a child sexual offense.

United States Age of Consent Map

United States Age of Consent Map

United States Age of Consent Chart

STATE LEGAL AGE OF CONSENT
Alabama 16
Alaska 16
Arizona 18
Arkansas 16
California 18
Colorado 17
Connecticut 16
D.C. 16
Delaware 18
Florida 18
Georgia 16
Hawaii 16
Idaho 18
Illinois 17
Indiana 16
Iowa 16
Kansas 16
Kentucky 16
Louisiana 17
Maine 16
Maryland 16
Massachusetts 16
Michigan 16
Minnesota 16
Mississippi 16
Missouri 17
Montana 16
Nebraska 17
Nevada 16
New Hampshire 16
New Jersey 16
New Mexico 17
New York 17
North Carolina 16
North Dakota 18
Ohio 16
Oklahoma 16
Oregon 18
Pennsylvania 16
Rhode Island 16
South Carolina 16
South Dakota 16
Tennessee 18
Texas 17
Utah 18
Vermont 16
Virginia 18
Washington 16
West Virginia 16
Wisconsin 18
Wyoming 18

 

“Romeo and Juliet Law” in Texas | An Exception to the Age of Consent in Texas

As mentioned in the chart above, the age of consent in Texas is 17. Texas, as well as many other states, has created a so-called “Romeo and Juliet” law, an exception to the statutory rape and age of consent law. Romeo and Juliet laws are targeted toward teenagers and young adults who engage in sexual relations with someone under the age of consent (17 in Texas), but who are still close in age to the sexual partner. The Romeo and Juliet provision creates a close in age exemption and keeps these would-be offenders from being classified as sex offenders.

Under Texas law, if a person over the age of 17 has consensual sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 17, but there is also no more than a three-year age difference between the two partners, the Texas Romeo and Juliet law will not allow the older person to be charged with statutory rape or be classified as a sex offender.

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Child Sexual Assault Deferred Adjudication Sentence

Is Deferred Adjudication an Authorized Sentence if Victim is 3 Years-Old?

By | Sex Crimes

Trial Judge Properly Imposed Deferred Adjudication in Sexual Assault Case, says CCA

Child Sexual Assault Deferred Adjudication SentenceAnthony v. State (Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 2016)

Note: This article contains sensitive subject matter dealing with the sexual assault of a minor.

Defendant Pleads Guilty to Sexual Assault Allegations in Exchange for Deferred Adjudication

In 2009, John Anthony was indicted for aggravated sexual assault of a child under fourteen years old. In a plea agreement, Anthony pleaded guilty to the charge in exchange for the prosecution’s recommendation of deferred-adjudication with community supervision. Generally speaking, deferred-adjudication is a type of probation in which a defendant enters a plea of guilty, but the judge defers the ruling for a set amount of time. If the set amount of time passes without further criminal activity or other technical violations by the defendant, the judge sets aside the plea and dismisses the case. For Anthony, the trial judge ordered a deferred period of eight years.  During this time, the defendant would remain on community supervision, under the watch of a probation officer. The judge listed the victim’s age as three years old on the official trial judge’s order for deferred adjudication—not “under fourteen years old” as was listed on Anthony’s indictment.

Several years passed until 2013, when the State moved to adjudicate because Anthony allegedly violated his community supervision directives. Finding the new allegations to be true, the judge adjudicated Anthony guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. Once again, the judgment listed the victim’s age as three years old, not fourteen years old as was listed on Anthony’s original indictment.

Age Discrepancy on Judge’s Orders Leads to Sentence Reversal

Anthony appealed his adjudicated sentence with court-appointed counsel, who eventually filed an Anders brief. See Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967). While reviewing the Anders brief, the court of appeals became concerned about the discrepancy in the victim’s age listed on the judge’s orders and on the original indictment. Specifically, the court of appeals was concerned that the trial court’s “finding” that the victim was three years old meant that under section 42.12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the trial judge was entirely precluded from imposing deferred adjudication in the first place. TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. Art. 42.12, § 5(d)(3)(B) (West 2006 & Supp. 2015). Additionally, the court of appeals was concerned that the age discrepancy error led to a potential flaw in sentencing. Further, the sentencing flaw potentially pointed to the fact that Anthony’s trial counsel could have been ineffective, possibly inducing Anthony into pleading “guilty” to a deal that should have never been made at all. Accordingly, the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment. The State petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals to review the case.

Can the Trial Court Place a Defendant on Deferred Adjudication for a Sexual Offense involving a 3 Year-Old Victim?

Now, the Court of Criminal Appeals must determine whether the potential age discrepancy error on the original indictment and on the trial judge’s orders created a procedural error during sentencing, possibly leading to ineffective assistance of counsel. If the age discrepancy is problematic procedurally, what should happen to Anthony’s original sentence?

Here, the Court of Criminal Appeals says that the trial judge properly imposed deferred adjudication. Because the indictment read that the victim was “younger than fourteen years old” and because there is nothing in the trial record to indicate that the State intended to prosecute under more stringent statutes with more stringent punishment guidelines, the CCA holds that the original sentence is proper. Further, the CCA deems Anthony’s previous trial counsel to be effective. Accordingly, the CCA strikes the “three year old” victim language in the trial court’s order, amending the language to reflect that the victim, “was younger than fourteen years of age at the time of the offense.” TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 42.015(b); TEX. R. APP. P. 78.1(c). Anthony’s sentence of life imprisonment stands because his deferred adjudication was properly imposed in 2009.