What are the Penalties for Sexual Assault in Texas?

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Sexual assault is a serious crime in any state and should be taken seriously by law enforcement officials and the community at large. Sexual assault loosely refers to any intimate contact, from kissing to intercourse, for which not all participants have given their consent.

Whether or not consent was given in a situation can be murky, and the law seeks to clarify this ambiguity. For example, sexual contact initiated by one person who is in a position of power over the other can be dubiously consensual (e.g., a residential care worker and a resident of the facility). Even if the resident says that they consented to the act, the nature of their preexisting relationship with the residential care worker could have influenced their decision to consent. 

Because proving consent relies heavily on each case’s unique circumstances, it’s crucial to involve an attorney early on if you are building a case, either as an accuser or the accused. A qualified sex crime lawyer will listen to the details of your case and advise you on how to proceed.

What Is Sexual Assault in Texas?

As stated above, sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact between one person and another. Texas distinguishes between sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault. 

Sexual assault involves any of the following acts (among others) when they occur without consent:

  • Kissing, fondling, or groping;

  • Insertion of fingers, foreign objects, or sexual organs into another person’s mouth, anus, or vagina;

  • Forced masturbation; and/or

  • Rape or attempted rape (forced sexual intercourse).

In Texas, sexual assault becomes aggravated when:

  • The perpetrator threatens violence, death, or other substantial harm in order to coerce the victim into complying with the sexual act;

  • The victim is younger than 14 (Child Sexual Assault);

  • The victim is elderly or disabled;

  • The perpetrator used a deadly weapon while carrying out the crime, whether to harm or to threaten;

  • The perpetrator caused or attempted serious bodily harm to the victim;

  • The perpetrator carried out the crime with another individual; and/or

  • The perpetrator used a “date rape” drug (e.g. rohypnol) to subdue the victim.

Both charges are extremely serious, and the state punishes aggravated sexual assault even more severely. In some cases, the state elevates rape or non-consensual insertion to aggravated sexual assault. 

Also, Texas law specifies that a perpetrator of sexual assault carries out the act “intentionally and knowingly,” including in situations when the perpetrator “knows or should reasonably believe” that the other party would not want said contact (Texas Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 22). A good example is marital rape: if a person pressures their partner into sex after their partner has already said no, until their partner relents and says yes, that could still be considered sexual assault. The person knew that their partner did not want to have sex and coerced their partner into it, despite an initial refusal. 

How Does Texas Punish Sexual Assault?

Texas considers sexual assault to be a second degree felony. A second degree felony usually warrants a state prison sentence of two to 20 years, and potentially a fine of up to $10,000. If the sexual assault was aggravated, the state elevates it to a first degree felony. A first degree felony carries a more serious sentence of between five and 99 years in state prison and potentially a fine of up to $10,000. This wide range accounts for the different types of aggravation, many of which carry their own minimums. For example, child sexual assault of a minor under 14 carries a minimum state prison sentence of 25 years. 

The age of the accused and the accuser, as well as their difference in age, also impacts the type of conviction the accused may face. This is called the close-in-age exception: a person may have consensual sex with a minor as long as that minor is 14 or older and the age difference is at most three years apart. So, even though Texas law defines a child as someone younger than 17, an 18 year old (an adult) who has a sexual encounter with a 15 year old (a child) may not be convicted of Child Sexual Assault. The 18 year old may be accused of Sexual Assault if it is proven that the encounter was non-consensual, however. 

If you are convicted of sexual assault, the court may also require you to register as a sex offender. The amount of time you must remain as a registered sex offender depends on the severity and type of crime. 

Sex Offender Registration in Texas

Perhaps the most feared consequence of a sexual assault conviction is the requirement to register as a sex offender. Being a registered sex offender can severely restrict your life, limiting your options of housing, travel, socialization, and employment. It can even prohibit you from voting for however long you remain on the registry. The amount of time you must stay registered as a sex offender depends on the severity and type of crime, and is up to the sentencing judge to determine.

The combination of legal restrictions and community ostracization usually means that sex offenders cannot assimilate into their communities, and many experience isolation and serious life disruption as a result. If you are a registered sex offender in Texas, it’s critical to understand your rights and responsibilities under the law. It’s also important that you stay informed on changes to sex offense laws. They could impact how long you must stay registered, or require you to re-register even if your conviction is decades old. 

Seek Legal Counsel Immediately

If you have been accused of sexual assault in Texas, a sex crime defense lawyer can help. An experienced attorney, such as the team at Hancock Criminal Defense, can examine the facts of your case, determine how to proceed, and position you for the correct outcome. When it comes to sex crimes, skilled legal counsel is essential.

January 12, 2021 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
Posted in: Uncategorized