Tag

Sexual Assault Archives | Page 2 of 3 | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys and Personal Injury Lawyers

Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Texas

Juvenile Sex Offender Registration in Texas

By | Juvenile, Sex Crimes

Juvenile Sex Offender Registration TexasIn Texas, the law governing sex offender registration contains several provisions that apply specifically to juveniles. This means that sex offender registration works differently in juvenile cases than it does in adult cases. This article will highlight how sex offender registration works in the Texas juvenile justice system and why this is an appropriate approach to take in these cases. This article will not discuss exemptions to the sex offender registration law for certain young adult offenders.

Sex Offender Registration in Juvenile Cases

The two biggest differences between sex offender registration in adult and juvenile cases involves how long the duty to register lasts and exemptions or deferrals for certain juvenile cases.

Expiration of the Duty to Register

Sex offender registration in Texas is contained in Chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Under Section 62.101, the duty to register in adult cases is for life. However, in juvenile cases, the duty to register ends ten years after the end of the sentence. This ten-year provision also applies to juvenile cases that are certified and transferred to adult court.

Exemptions for Certain Juvenile Cases

According to Section 62.351 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, either during or after the dispositional hearing in a case in which a juvenile has been adjudicated for a registrable offense, the court can hold a hearing to determine whether the interests of the public require this particular juvenile to register under Chapter 62. This hearing will only be held if, prior to the hearing, the attorney for the juvenile has filed a motion asking the court to consider exempting him from the registration requirements.

During this hearing, which does not involve a jury, the juvenile must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the protection of the public would not be increased by the registration or that any increase in the protection of the public is clearly outweighed by the anticipated substantial harm to the juvenile and his family caused by registration. After the hearing, the court, under Section 62.352, can make one of several rulings. If the court determines that the juvenile has met his burden of proof, the court must exempt the child from the duty to register. If the juvenile has not met his burden, the judge can either make the child register, make the registration nonpublic, or defer the decision on registration until after the juvenile has completed treatment.

Deferral of the Registration Requirement Certain Juvenile Cases

If the court decides to defer the registration, the juvenile is not required to register during the deferral period. This deferral will automatically turn into an exemption if the juvenile successfully completes treatment, unless the prosecuting attorney files a motion requesting a hearing to reconsider the issue of registration.

Other Scenarios

Under Sections 62.353 and 62.354, juveniles who are already registering under Chapter 62, or those who are required to register due to an out-of-state adjudication, may also petition the court to have their registration either deferred or waived. These provisions require a hearing similar to that discussed above with exemptions.

Tarrant County’s Approach to Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

No one can guarantee a particular outcome in a specific case. Every case, and every set of facts, is different and unique. However, many times, in Tarrant County, if a motion is filed by the juvenile’s attorney, the court will consider deferring the registration requirement until the end of probation to see if the juvenile can successfully complete treatment.

Other States’ Approaches to Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

It is important to note that not all states have a provision for exempting or deferring a juvenile’s sex offender registration requirements. This means that if a child is adjudicated of a sex offense requiring registration in Texas and then moves out of state, he may be required to register under the new state’s laws.

Why is This an Appropriate Approach to Juvenile Sex Offender Registration?

At first blush, exempting juveniles from registering after they have been adjudicated of a sex offense seems wrong. However, it is important to remember that sex offender registration is a far-reaching consequence that can have profound effects on the life of the person subject to registration. These effects can be even more profound when the person who must register is an 11 or 12-year-old child. It is also important to note that research has shown repeatedly that juveniles who successfully complete treatment are less likely to reoffend than adults. Many juveniles who commit sexual offenses are not pedophiles, but instead, are curious, experimenting, or have not yet developed an acceptable level of impulse control.

While these behaviors are wrong, serious, and need to be addressed, sex offender registration is not the appropriate vehicle to do that. By allowing the exemption or deferral of registration in juvenile cases, Chapter 62 allows judges to evaluate each of these very different cases on their merits and apply the law in the most appropriate way for that case. It also allows juveniles to have a chance at rehabilitation before imposing drastic and long-lasting consequences on them that may devastate their lives before they ever really begin.

Conclusion

Sex offender registration is applied differently in adult cases than it is in juvenile cases. This is due to a few provisions in the law that apply specifically to juveniles. The biggest difference in the two systems is that, in juvenile cases, the judge has discretion over the issue of registration. The court can, if it chooses, defer that registration to see how the juvenile does in treatment. This allows courts to tailor a disposition and consequences to better suit a particular juvenile’s situation while still providing for the protection of the public.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice about any particular case. It is only intended to be a general overview of the sex offender registration law in juvenile cases. For legal advice, please consult an attorney about your case.

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.

Police Officer Miranda Warnings Texas

A Fast Miranda Warning is No Warning at All

By | Miranda

Baiza v. State | How Slowly Should an Officer Read Miranda Warnings?

Police Officer Miranda Warnings TexasWe all know that the police must read the Miranda warnings before they question someone that is under arrest.  But what does that look like in a practical sense? Can the officer read the Miranda warnings like the side effect warnings in a prescription drug commercial, where we can’t understand them? Or does he have to read them slowly, ensuring that the person being questioned fully understands each provision?  This issue recently came up in Baiza v. State, an appellate case in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gregory Baiza was convicted for sexual assault of his wife and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Baiza was in a common-law marriage with his wife and had two children together. There was an argument between the two when Baiza found out that his wife was pregnant with their third child. Baiza’s wife claims that Baiza forced himself on her after this argument. Eventually the police were called on the scene.

After Baiza’s wife left for the hospital, she decided to press charges on Baiza. A detective came over to get a statement from Gregory Baiza but he refused. The detective then placed Baiza under arrest. Baiza, however, admitted during the second recorded statement that his wife told him to stop but that he kept going – a statement that would ultimately lead to his conviction for rape at trial.

Baiza argued to the Eleventh Court of Appeals that this admission during the recorded statement should not have been allowed into evidence at the trial court. Baiza argued that when the detective read Baiza the Miranda warnings, he read them so fast that they were unintelligible. Specifically, Baiza argued that he did not hear the warning that he was allowed to terminate the interview at any time.

Strict Compliance with Miranda Rules Not Required, But the Reading of Rights Must be Intelligible

In reviewing this issue, the Eleventh Circuit notes that strict compliance with the Miranda rules is not required, but rather a “substantial compliance” will suffice. “Thus, the warnings given to an accused are effective even if not given verbatim, so long as they convey the ‘fully effective equivalent’ of the warnings.” In order for an admission to be allowed in court, the warnings must also be on the recording. The court listened to the recording to determine if the detective gave the prescribed warnings to Baiza. The detective read the warnings from a card to Baiza. The court slowed down the audio and determined that the detective did in fact inform Baiza that he has the right to terminate the interview. However, the Eleventh Circuit determined that when played at actual speed, the “right to terminate” warning is unintelligible.

The Eleventh Circuit determined that because the “right to terminate” warning was unintelligible, that the warnings were not given and that the trial court erred when it allowed the admission into evidence. The Court then went on to find that they did not have fair assurance that the error did not influence the jury or that the error influenced the jury only slightly by incorrectly allowing this admission into evidence. For these reasons, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the judgment and remanded for a new trial.

It is very difficult to get a case overturned, even when evidence has been incorrectly admitted. But here, the Court finds that even though the detective read Baiza his Miranda warnings, reading them so quickly as to make a key part unintelligible was enough to keep out an admission by Baiza from evidence. Specifically, the court finds that the “right to terminate” is a crucial part of the Miranda warnings and that a detective or officer cannot read them so quickly as to make them unintelligible or any admission shall not be admitted into evidence.

Read the full opinion in Baiza v. State.

Sex Offender Passport Law

New Law Requires Certain Sex Offenders to Have Identifying Mark on Their Passports

By | Sex Crimes

Sex Offender Passport LawOn February 8, 2016, President Obama signed International Megan’s Law after it unanimously passed in Congress. International Megan’s Law has been put into place to prevent child exploitation and other sexual crimes through advanced notification of traveling sex offenders. The law will implement new notification requirements for sex offenders as well as require unique identifying marks on sex offender’s passports.

Read the language of the bill here.

Who is Required to Have an Identifying Mark on Their Passport under the International Megan’s Law?

The new law provides two categories of “covered” sexual offenders that will have to have this mark on their passport:

  1. Sex offenders convicted of a sex offense against a minor; and
  2. Any individual that is required to register in the sex offender registry of any jurisdiction in the National Sex Offender Registry because of an offense against a minor.

What Are the New Requirements for Sex Offenders Traveling Abroad?

Covered sex offenders must now provide to the appropriate official any information relating to their intended travel outside of the United States, including anticipated dates and all flight information, address or other contact information while outside of the U.S., purpose for travel, and any other travel-related information. The sex offender must update any changes to this information. If a sex offender knowingly fails to provide such information they shall be fined, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.

What Will Occur When Sex Offenders Decide to Travel Abroad?

The Angel Watch Center will be established to perform activities required by the law to gain information on sex offenders traveling abroad. The Center, not later than 48 hours before scheduled departure, will use all relevant databases, systems and sources of information to:

  • Determine if individuals traveling abroad are listed on the National Sex Offender Registry
  • Review lists of individuals who have provided advanced notice of international travel, and
  • Provide a list of those individuals to the United States Marshals Service’s National Sex Offender Targeting Center (Targeting Center) not in the system to determine compliance with sex offender registration requirements.

When Will Advanced Notice Be Given to Destination Countries?

The Center may give relevant information to an individual’s destination country if the individual was identified as having provided advanced notice of international travel, or if after completing the Center’s activities described above, the Center receives information pertaining to a sex offender from the Targeting Center.

Additionally, the Center may immediately give relevant information to the destination country if the Center becomes aware of a sex offender traveling outside of the U.S. within 24 hours of their intended travel and simultaneously completes the Center’s activities, or if within 24 hours of intended travel, the Center has not yet received the information pertaining to the sex offender from the Targeting Center.

What is the Process for Issuing Passports to Sex Offenders?

The Secretary of State cannot issue a passport to a covered sex offender unless the passport contains a unique identifier. Further, a passport previously issued without an identifier may be revoked. The unique identifier has not been determined yet.

The Secretary of State may reissue a passport without a unique identifier if an individual reapplies for a passport and the Angel Watch Center provides written determination that the individual is no longer required to register as a covered sex offender.

What About Sex Offenders Entering Into the United States?

Upon receiving notification that an individual who has committed an offense of a sexual nature is attempting to enter the United States, the Center will immediately share all of the information on the individual with the Department of Justice and other Federal, State, and local entities as appropriate.

Conclusion

Under this new law, sex offenders who have committed offenses pertaining to a minor child will now be required to give notification of any intended international travel and will likely have to have a passport with a unique identifying mark. Sex offenders who already have passports should be prepared for reissuance of one with the identifying mark. This mark will alert officials that this individual has committed an offense against a child. Further, destination countries will be notified of any relevant information on the sex offender. It is important to stay up to date on the requirements and implications set forth by International Megan’s Law to avoid any unintentional violations of the new requirements.

The law is still new and right now there are more questions than answers.  Interested parties should be diligent to stay informed as the implementation of this law is rolled out.

Fort Worth Failure to Register as Sex Offender Defense Lawyer

Failure to Register is Not a Separate and Distinct Sex Offense

By | Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

Is Failure to Register as a Sex Offender a Sex Offense Itself?

Fort Worth Failure to Register as Sex Offender Defense LawyerAt his trial, Eric Putnam pleaded guilty for “failure to register as a sex offender,” a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250 that “carries a statutory range [of punishment] for supervised release of five years to life.” 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k). A Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), calculated Putnam’s punishment for supervised release at 15 years, treating his conviction of Failure to Register as an additional sex offense under section 5D1.2(b)(2). PSRs are reports used by federal courts to assist the court in measuring a defendant’s punishment under the US Sentencing Guidelines Manual. Courts have discretion in determining type and length of punishment, sometimes deviating from the recommendation of the PSR. For Putnam, the district court adopted the PSR, sentencing him to ten months imprisonment followed by a supervised release term of 15 years.

See the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Putnam

Putnam appealed the 15-year term of supervised release, contending the district court erroneously treated his conviction for Failure to Register on the sex offender registry as a separate sex offense in and of itself. Because Putnam failed to object to the length of the sentence at the time of trial, essentially waiving his right to appeal the sentence on the merits, he must show (1) that a “plain error” was made at the sentencing phase of his trial, and, (2) that the “plain error” affected his substantial rights. United States v. Warren, 720 F.3d 321, 332 (5th Cir. 2013); United States v. Escalante-Reyes, 689 F.3d 415, 419 (5th Cir. 2012) (en banc). The “Plain Error Doctrine” refers to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) that permits federal courts of appeals to consider “plain errors” even though they were not brought to the district court’s attention at the time of trial.

Here, the government “concedes that a plain error [did] occur with respect to the Guidelines calculation for the length of…the supervised release term.” In earlier case law, the Fifth Circuit has held, “that failure to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act does not qualify as a sex offense under section 5D1.2(b)(2) of the Guidelines.” United States v. Segura, 747 F.3d, 323,329-31 (5th Cir. 2014). The Court agrees with the government and with Putnam—that a plain error did in fact occur at trial, and that the recommended sentence on the PSR should have included a supervised release from one to five years, instead of the range of five years to life.

Next, the Court explained, “Putnam has met his burden of showing that the [plain] error affected his substantial rights…[because] but for the district court’s misapplication of the [Sentencing] Guidelines, Putnam would have received a lesser sentence.” United States v. Mudekunye, 646 F.3d 281, 289 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam). A defendant meets the burden of showing that plain error affected his substantial rights when:

  1. the district court mistakenly calculates the wrong Guidelines range;
  2. the incorrect range is significantly higher than the true range; and
  3. the defendant is sentenced incorrectly. Id.

Here, Putnam fulfills all three requirements—the district court miscalculated his range of punishment; the range was significantly higher (three times the correct amount); and Putnam was sentenced incorrectly. Although the courts may use discretion in sentencing—sometimes giving a longer sentence to a habitual offender, or someone with a long criminal history—Putnam had only one prior, lesser conviction. The district court did not have a compelling reason to go above the correct sentencing guidelines.

Lastly, the Court determined whether the plain error affected the “fairness, integrity, and reputation of the judicial proceeding.” Courts “often exercise…discretion to correct error when it result[s] in a custodial sentence in excess of the correct Guidelines recommendation.” United States v. Hernandez, 690 F.3d 623, 621-22 (5th Cir. 2012). Here, “miscalculation of a supervised release” is [un]common…but [nevertheless] is a substantial restraint on liberty.” United States v. Segura, 61 F.App’x 119, at *1 (5th Cir. 2003).

In sum, the Court concluded that there was, indeed, an error in Putnam’s case that resulted in a sentence ten years above the correct Guidelines range, “satisfying all the plain error inquiries.” The Court vacated the sentence and remanded to the district court for proper sentencing.

Texas Sex Trafficking Statute

Is Texas’ Sex Trafficking Statute Overbroad?

By | Sex Crimes

Appellate Court Raises a Constitutional Eyebrow at Texas’ Sex Trafficking Statute

Texas Sex Trafficking StatuteRobert Francis Ritz met a young girl on an online dating website. She was fourteen years old at the time while Ritz was Forty-four. The two began to meet up in person and began to have a sexual relationship. Ritz would pick the girl up from her parents’ house, drive her back to his house, have sex, and then drop her back off at her house. For this conduct, a jury found appellant Ritz guilty of continuous sex trafficking and assessed punishment at life in prison. Ritz appealed to the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Austin.

See the court’s opinion in Ritz v. State

How Does the Texas Penal Code Define Sex Trafficking?

The Texas Penal Code provides that a person commits continuous trafficking of persons “if, during a period that is 30 or more days in duration, the person engages two or more times in conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 20A.02 [trafficking of persons] against one or more victims.” Tex. Penal Code § 20A.03(a). A person commits trafficking of persons “if the person knowingly . . . traffics a child and by any means causes the trafficked child to engage in, or become the victim of, conduct prohibited by” an enumerated section of the Penal Code. Id. § 20A.02(a)(7). The Penal Code also provides that “‘[t]raffic’ means to transport, entice, recruit, harbor, provide, or otherwise obtain another person by any means.” Id. § 20A.01(4).

Under this broad language, Ritz falls into this category. Ritz argues, however, that he did not traffic this girl and should not be found guilty of human sex trafficking. He argues that the legislature surely did not intend this anti-human-trafficking statute to apply to cases like this where there is no “illegal trade of human beings for profit or for sex trafficking.” Further, he argues that this outcome would lead to “absurd consequences” and increase the punishment range for all sexual offenses involving a minor.

Essentially, Ritz is argued on appeal that this statute was intended for people trading other humans, not for a person driving a girl around so they can have sex together. The Court of Appeals concedes that although this act is “reprehensible,” it is not what is normally thought of as human trafficking because there was no organized crime, prostitution, or forced labor. The court also concedes that the language in the statute may be so broad that nearly every adult who has sex with a minor will be considered a human trafficker.

Nonetheless, the court concludes that as long as this statute is constitutional, then they must enforce it as it was written and not how it should have been written. The court also offers that it could have been possible that the legislature did want to increase the penalties for persons who commit sexual crimes with minors under the “trafficking” umbrella.

Effectively after this case, most every person who has committed a sexual crime with a minor will be eligible to be punished under the trafficking umbrella which faces harsh penalties as seen here. The court noted that Ritz did not challenge the constitutionality of the statute so the court did not look into it. Attorneys facing this same dilemma might raise this constitutional argument to have a better chance on appeal.

Fort Worth Child Abuse Attorneys

Outcry Witness Statements Upheld by Fort Worth Court

By | Sex Crimes

Hearsay Statements Admitted in Child Sexual Assault Trial. Affirmed on Appeal by Fort Worth Court.

Fort Worth Child Abuse AttorneysGonzales v. State – 2nd Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) 2015

Pablo Gonzales, Jr. was convicted on one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child and three counts of indecency with a child. He was sentenced to life in prison by the jury for the sexual assault case and twenty years imprisonment in each of the indecency cases.

The defendant lived in a house where drug use was rampant and people would come in, often leaving their children for him to watch.  One of the witnesses against him, given the pseudonym T.P., was the mother of two of the girls that claimed to be sexually abused by defendant. Generally, hearsay testimony, testimony from one person about what another person says, cannot be admitted into evidence against a defendant. Here, the trial court applied an exception to the hearsay rule for an “outcry witness.” An outcry witness is the first person a child tells about abuse that the child received and this testimony by the outcry witness can be admitted.

The defendant in this case argued that the outcry witness testimony should not be allowed into court because T.P. admitted that her memory was fuzzy as a result of her drug use. Defendant also argued that T.P.’s testimony satisfied few, if any, of the nonexclusive factors the court considers in determining the reliability of an outcry.

When Can an Outcry Witness Statement by Admitted Over Defense Objection?

Article 38.072 of the code of criminal procedure provides a mechanism that requires the trial court to determine on a case-by-case basis if outcry witness testimony reaches the level of reliability required to be admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule.

Indicia of reliability that the trial court may consider [under article 38.072] include (1) whether the child victim testifies at trial and admits making the out-of-court statement, (2) whether the child understands the need to tell the truth and has the ability to observe, recollect, and narrate, (3) whether other evidence corroborates the statement, (4) whether the child made the statement spontaneously in his own terminology or whether evidence exists of prior prompting or manipulation by adults, (5) whether the child’s statement is clear and unambiguous and rises to the needed level of certainty, (6) whether the statement is consistent with other evidence, (7) whether the statement describes an event that a child of the victim’s age could not be expected to fabricate, (8) whether the child behaves abnormally after the contact, (9) whether the child has a motive to fabricate the statement, (10) whether the child expects punishment because of reporting the conduct, and (11) whether the accused had the opportunity to commit the offense.

The defendant claimed that the outcry lacked reliability, specifically because of T.P.’s drug use and generally because it was short, lacked detail, and was uncorroborated. The 2nd Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) agreed that the statement was short, but pointed out that it was also very clear, specific, and unequivocal. A trial court’s decision to admit evidence will not be disturbed on appeal absent a clear abuse of discretion. A trial court has only abused its discretion if its decision falls outside the zone of reasonable disagreement.

The 2nd Court of Appeals went on explain that even if they concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony, such error would not rise to the level of constitutional error and should only be reversed if the error affected the Defendant’s substantial rights. The Court noted the victim testified at trial, and her testimony both corroborated T.P.’s testimony regarding the outcry and provided greater detail.  For this reason, the Court held that even if the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the outcry witness testimony, the error would be harmless.

Even if someone admits to their memory not being completely accurate due to prominent drug use, their outcry testimony can still be brought into court if the person who made the statements to them originally, corroborates them. This may make it extremely hard to overturn a conviction with the Court of Appeals because even if outcry testimony may be weak or lacks reliability, the Court will likely not overrule the case so long as others corroborate the testimony. This may also make it extremely hard to keep out any outcry statements.

Fort Worth Texas Sexual Assault Attorneys

Politically-Incorrect Dissent on Sexual Assault in the Military

By | Sex Crimes

Fort Worth Texas Sexual Assault AttorneysThis opinion reflects the personal views of the author and should not be attributed to any agency or office.

There has been a lot of media attention recently on rape victims and the prevalence of rape in the military.  As some of the individuals retell their stories, it is clear to see that they suffered from a traumatic experience.  However, being in the military myself, and a former military prosecutor no less, I do not share the opinion that there is an “epidemic” in our ranks.  Does sexual assault occur in the military?  Absolutely.  But does it occur at a rate any higher than what you might find on an average college campus or in the public writ large?  No.  And when sexual assault allegations arise, are commanders sweeping them under the proverbial rug?  Certainly not!

One of the major differences in the military justice system versus the state criminal justice system, is that the District Attorneys in the states can evaluate the allegations, and if they decide that the case lacks prosecutorial merit, they can refuse to present the case to a grand jury for an indictment.  Another major difference is if the grand jury says there isn’t enough evidence, the District Attorney can’t go forward.  Neither of these checks and balances are found in the military justice system.

Instead, unit commanders (called Convening Authorities – usually Colonels and higher) decide whether a case should proceed to trial.  For felony-level cases like sexual assault, they must first receive a recommendation from a neutral investigator, but the ultimate decision on whether to go forward with a case rests with the commander.

The neutral investigator (called an Article 32 Investigating Officer) hears the evidence that the government has against the defendant and makes a recommendation to the commander.  This sounds fair so far, but when the investigator recommends NOT going forward on a sexual assault case because of deficiencies in the evidence, all too often the commander is faced with a dilemma: dismiss the charges as recommended or forward the charges to a General Court-Martial.  The easiest decision is to send it forward.

But can you blame them?  What are the commanders supposed to do when the deafening chorus of politicians and news anchors are calling for more accountability for “rapists” in the military?  Does anyone really expect a commander (typically a rising star in the military) to risk their professional future by refusing to send a rape allegation to trial and face being labeled by the media as “hiding rapists” or being “soft on sexual assault?” No way!  They are going to take the easy way out.  The politically palatable way out.  They are going to kick the can down the road to the prosecutor and let him take the case to trial, warts and all, under the guise of letting “the military justice system runs its course.”

Please do not read this to say that I think all sexual assault allegations in the military have no prosecutorial merit.  Many do.  But can we ever expect the commander to make the hard call to dismiss a case when it lacks merit?  Not any more.  And then when the prosecutors do their very best with a case that would have never gone to trial in a state system, we ask: Why can’t you get the conviction?  The prosecutors may possess the trial skills of Perry Mason or Clarence Darrow, but they can’t change the facts of the case, the rules of evidence, or the burden of proof.  These cases are seldom black and white.  And in a Constitutional system that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, convictions are (and should be) hard to come by.

With all of this going on (our focus on the victims), what is baffling to me, is that we are forgetting about the accused.  What happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” Congress is asking for more convictions; going so far to change the military sexual assault laws in a shameless effort to secure more convictions, while, the accused is labeled a rapist before even having his day in court.  This is terrible and antithetical to our criminal justice system.  We can’t simply jettison the Constitution when it is politically appealing.

McClatchy put out a pretty good article on this issue last week (LINK).  Of the many the media outlets that have focused on this issue, they are the only one, in my opinion, that has its priorities straight.  Sometimes justice means that a person is convicted of sexual assault.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But this prejudgment of military defendants (or any defendants) has to stop.  By law, an accused is innocent until a verdict of guilty is returned and no sooner.

Sexual Assault Defense Attorneys Fort Worth

The Importance of Reading Statutes in Context

By | Sex Crimes

Texas Stacking Sentences in Sexual Offenses

Sexual Assault Defense Attorneys Fort WorthNguyen v. State.

Section 3.03(b)(2)(B) of the Texas Penal Code authorizes consecutive sentences when the State convicts a defendant of multiple sex crimes arising from the same criminal episode. An interesting situation occurred when Appellant was charged in two separate indictments with aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault of two of his daughters. While the initial charges fell under Section 3.03(b)(2)(B), Appellant pled guilty to two counts of injury to a child (not a sex offense). He received a five year deferred adjudication sentence. Five months after he was placed on community supervision, the State filed a motion to revoke based on a violation of the “no contact” condition. The Judge revoked Appellant’s community supervision and sentenced him to 10 years confinement in each of the two cases, to run consecutively. Appellant appealed the sentence, arguing that Section 3.03(b)(2)(B), authorizing consecutive sentences in sex crimes cases, did not apply to his convictions because he had not been “formally” convicted of a sex offense.

The primary language at issue in the case was the portion of Section 3.03(b)(2)(B) that stated:

“(B) for which a plea agreement was reached in a case in which the accused was charged with more than one offense.”

The State argues that this provision, by its plain language, permits the trial judge to impose consecutive sentences for multiple nonsexual offenses if the defendant was originally charged with qualifying sexual offenses. Appellant argued that because 3.03 (b)(2)(A) excludes any nonsexual offense, the legislature never intended to authorize consecutive sentences for nonsexual offenses.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the statutory language of Section 3.03(b)(2)(B) was ambiguous as to the specific issue brought up by Appellant’s case. Finding that the language of the statute was ambiguous, the Court looked to the legislative intent behind passing Section 3.03(b)(2)(B). The Court explained that,

the history shows that the legislature enacted this provision to ensure that defendants who, pursuant to a plea bargain, are placed on deferred adjudication for certain sex offenses are subject to the same requirements, disabilities, and punishments that had previously been applied only to those formally ‘convicted’ of a sex offense.

This case showed the willingness of the CCA to read a statute as a whole and to look to the legislative intent of the entire section vice a small portion. In the law, as in politics and elsewhere, a sentence or two taken out of context can be a dangerous thing.

The “charged with” language could have been easily misconstrued by isolating only subsection (B) and reading it apart from the rest of Section 3.03. It can also be misconstrued to not only read it in isolation, but to ignore the legislative intent behind the statute in the first place. Like anything, small snippets of statutes can be isolated and taken out of context. The State tried to capitalize on another poorly worded statute but the CCA looked past that argument to determine the meaning of 3.03 as a whole.

Finding that Section 3.03(b)(2)(B) refers only to plea bargain agreements resulting in convictions for child sex offenses, the CCA agreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision to modify the trial court’s judgment and ordered Appellant’s sentences on his two convictions for injury to a child to run concurrently.

Defense to sexual assault

CCA Holds: Medical Care Defense Not Limited to Medical Personnel

By | Sex 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.