Sexual Assault under Texas Law

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Sexual assault, or rape in Texas is defined as a person intentionally, knowingly and recklessly causing or threatening to cause bodily harm to another through sexual contact without the victim's consent.

The all-encompassing law provides specificities in order to separate physical assault from sexual assault, and to categorize the assault and harshness of charges that an offender may face. Any sexual assault conviction in Texas can severely damage an individual's reputation, calls for harsh penalties and requires registration on the state's sex offender list.

The issue of consent
An act is considered to have been without the victim's consent if physical violence was used or threatened in order to force the victim to participate in lewd acts. Regardless of the relationship two people may have, whether they are strangers, a dating couple or spouses, once a person says “no,” any continued sexual behavior is considered sexual assault. A person also cannot, by law, give consent if he or she is severely intoxicated or unconscious as a result of drugs or alcohol, or if the person is physically or mentally disabled. Consent is always lacking in any situation where the defendant is in a place of power or charged with care of the victim. For the purpose of protecting both parties, it is important that everyone understands that consent may not be coerced, implied or assumed.

Aggravated assault
A charge of sexual assault may be elevated to a charge of aggravated sexual assault if particularly violent measures were taken during the act that was committed. In order for an act to be defined as aggravated sexual assault, any of the following must have occurred:

• The defendant has caused serious bodily injury or attempted to cause the death of the victim
• The defendant placed the victim in fear of death, serious bodily injury or kidnapping
• A deadly weapon was used or exhibited during the crime
• The defendant acted with another individual during the crime
• Either rohypnol or ketamine (“date rape drugs”) was used to make the crime easier to commit
• The victim was younger than 14 years of age
• The victim was an elderly or disabled individual

In most cases, sexual assault that is not characterized as “aggravated” is prosecuted as a second degree felony. A second degree felony carries a sentence of two to 20 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Sexual assault cases can be advanced to a first degree felony in a number of cases. If the crime was committed between a victim and defendant who are by law prohibited from marrying or living under the appearance of being married, the crime is prosecuted as a first degree felony. This can include sex crimes among immediate and extended family, or between people whose age differences do not permit sexual relations. A first degree felony in Texas is punishable by five to 99 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Aggravated sexual assault in Texas is always considered a first degree felony, and is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 25 years if the victim is younger than 6 years old, or 14 years old and was subjected to a certain level of violence.

If you have been accused of or charged with sexual assault, it is imperative that you speak with a criminal defense attorney immediately. There are several defenses that can counter a charge of sexual assault. The defenses address issues of innocence, consent of the victim, lack of knowledge, lack of intent and insanity of the defendant. Consult with an attorney to determine which defense is relevant to the crime you have been accused of, and to prevent a life-altering conviction.

Paul Darrow is a Houston criminal defense attorney that specializes in sex crime charges. Mr. Darrow started his legal career as a prosecutor for the Galveston County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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