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Penalties for Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child in Texas

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Sexual abuse of a child is a serious crime in Texas. Within the range of sexual abuse crimes involving children, continuous sexual abuse of a child is an extremely serious offense. The definition of the crime includes sexual contact of any kind between a minor child of less than 14 years old and an adult that occurs at least two times within a 30-day period. This may also include:

  • Sexual assault [§ 22.011]
  • Sexual performance by a child [§ 43.25]
  • Indecency with a child [§ 21.11]

If the defendant allegedly performs these actions with a child less than 14-years-old at least two times within 30 days, the prosecutor may file a charge of continuous sexual abuse against him or her.

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What is Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child?

Texas Penal Code Title 5 Chapter 21 describes sexual offenses. Under § 21.02, a person may be charged with continuous sexual abuse of a young child (children) if he or she commits a range of crimes involving children, including:

  • Aggravated kidnapping a minor child (children) [§ 20.04] for purposes of committing sexual assault
  • Breaking and entering one or more victims’ abodes for the purpose of sexually assaulting a minor child younger than 14 years old. (The defendant may face burglary under § 30.02.)
  • Compelling a child to prostitution [§ 43.05(a) (2)]
  • Trafficking a child [§ 20A.02]

It’s important to note that predicate offenses (the above-mentioned sexual offenses) needed to trigger § 21.02 don’t require the jury to render a unanimous verdict.

The accused must be at least 17 years old and the victim(s) must be younger than 14 years old. It may be an affirmative defense if the alleged offender isn’t more than five years older than the child victim.

Along with murder, sexual assault crimes involving minor children are taken very seriously in Texas. If convicted by a unanimous jury, a first-time offender will face life-altering consequences, including:

• A first-degree felony charge conviction

• A minimum 25-year prison term

• A maximum 99-year (life) prison term

• A maximum $10,000 fine

A repeat offender with a prior sexual offense conviction faces an automatic life in prison sentence. If you or someone you care about has been accused of a sexual offense involving a child, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

What is Jessica’s Law?

Texas passed the Jessica Lunsford Act (House Bill 8) in 2007 to confirm continuous sexual abuse of a child as a sexual offense (§ 21.02). Jessica Lunsford was a nine-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a convicted sex offender. Texas and other states have passed versions of the Florida law.

The components of Jessica’s Law include:

a) The actor is alleged to have committed sexual abuse against one or multiple victims [§ 21.02 (b) (1)]

b) The victim is less than the age of 14 [§ 21.02 (b) (2)]

c) A unanimous jury must agree that the offender committed at least two sexual abuse acts within a 30-day period. The jury doesn’t have to agree on the exact dates on which the offender committed the crimes or the specific sexual abuse actions he or she committed. [§ 21.02 (d)]

i) This means a defendant who’s indicted under § 21.02, based on the prosecutor’s theory that the offender committed acts of indecency and sexual assault with a minor less than 14 years old in a 30-day period (Let’s say that the defendant is alleged to have committed these acts from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016), then the jury isn’t required to deliver a unanimous verdict concerning the two predicate offenses to render a unanimous conviction of the defendant’s having committed the offenses at some time in 2016.

ii) Texas Constitution Article V, Section 13 and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 36.29 have historically held an important difference: all juries must reach unanimous verdicts in all felony cases. Three Texas courts of appeals have addressed the issue.

d) If the defendant didn’t use threat, duress, or force or wasn’t a registered sex offender, the alleged offender may bring these facts in his or her defense. [§ 21.02 (g)]

If convicted of a first-time offense—even if the defendant has no prior criminal history—he or she faces a minimum 25-year to maximum 99-year (life) prison sentence. [§ 22.02 (h)] A first-time offender won’t have access to probation such as:

1) Deferred adjudication community supervision [Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 42.12 § 5 (d) (3)]

2) Judge-ordered community supervision

If the defendant has prior sexual offense convictions, he or she faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. [§ 12.42 (c) (4)]

Jessica’s Law prohibits any type of probation. Under Texas Government Code § 508.145 (a), the convict isn’t eligible for parole.

How Does Jessica’s Law Differ From Other Crimes?

Other than a capital murder charge conviction, continuous sexual abuse of a child is one of the highest level offenses with which a defendant in Texas may be charged.

However, it’s important to understand that Texas’s version of Jessica’s law, and other similar laws in other states, have met significant constitutional challenges. That’s one of the reasons you should identify aggressive criminal defense right away.

How is Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child Investigated in Texas?

Child Protective Services frequently performs an investigation. If you have received communications from CPS, you should consider reaching out to a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney now.

Although the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty under Texas law, many people automatically assume the worst of the child sex abuse defendant.

Since there’s no statute of limitations for continuous sexual abuse of a child in Texas, it won’t matter when the incident(s) occurred. It doesn’t matter if you’re not living in Texas, either. A jury in Anderson County, Texas convicted and sentenced a 63-year-old man from Michigan of continuous assault of a child a few years ago. He is serving a 35-year prison term without the possibility of parole.

You should understand that a conviction may occur based on weak evidence or flimsy accusations. It’s essential to have an experienced child sex abuse lawyer at your side. Your criminal defense attorney can assist in building a strong legal defense. He may help you to avoid conviction on the charge. For instance, if your case involves an ex-spouse’s testimony, it might be possible for your defense attorney to show that he or she has a revenge motive. The child may have been coached to make false statements against you in order to extract this revenge.

In addition, a lack of physical evidence—or evidence that shows the child has a history of making up stories—may be used by the criminal defense attorney. It may be possible in some instances for the court to drop all charges or to negotiate a plea deal with lesser punishments.

Degrees of the Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child in Texas

Depending upon the facts of the case, it may be possible to prove the defensive theory. In other cases, it may be important to mitigate potential punishments if the defendant is convicted of the charge:

  • If convicted of a sexual abuse charge, the defendant faces a minimum two-year to a maximum life sentence in prison.
  • Aggravated sexual assault carries a range of a minimum five-year to a maximum 99-year prison sentence.
  • The act of exposing a sex organ to a minor involves a lower punishment, from a minimum of two years and a maximum of 10 years in prison.
  • Higher levels of punishment are provided for higher level sexual abuse charges.

Each case is unique. In some instances, the best position involves disproving aggravating circumstances to lessen the higher potential range of punishment. For instance, if the accused shows that a weapon wasn’t used, it may be possible to reduce an aggravated sexual abuse charge to sexual abuse. Doing so lessens the potential punishment range.

In some cases, probation may be a sentencing option for the individual convicted of a sexual abuse charge. However, probation in that event involves stricter conditions that ordinary probation. A judge may impose any number of conditions that protect the community or enhance the defendant’s rehabilitation.

What Are All the Possible Consequences of Registering as a Sex Offender

If convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child in Texas, the offender must also register as a sex offender. In other words, he or she will be entered into a sex offender database that includes name, address, photograph, and personal details. In most cases, the individual’s sex offender status is maintained for life.

He or she is likely to face automatic denial of parole. After serving out the full court-mandated prison sentence:

a) The offender will be required to report changes of address.

b) He or she won’t be able to live in certain areas, such as close to a school, or have contact with children.

c) Some property managers won’t rent to a known sex offender.

d) Some jobs, such as education and children, will be off-limits.

e) In addition, the offender won’t be allowed government benefits or access to some educational programs or schools.

f) The offender may lose most or all of his or her close relationships as a result of a felony conviction.

Summing Up

If you’re facing a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child, this is an extremely serious matter. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side right away. Mr. Podolsky is Board Certified in criminal law and a former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the state of Texas. Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky to schedule an initial case evaluation as soon as possible.

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