Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 9: Registration, Deferred Adjudication, and Probation

November 30, 2020

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Being convicted of a sex crime is unenviable to be sure.  One of the reasons we fight so hard on sex charges and crimes is because the down side is so catastrophic.

I’m continuing my series on sexual abuse cases – today discussing the technical and legal aspects of what happens if you or a loved one have either been found guilty, been placed on deferred adjudication or have been released from prison.

Sex Offender Registration

Registration is controlled by Tex.Code.Crim.P. Chapter 62.  It requires a sex offender to register with local authorities on a regular basis.  Many cities have also passed ordinances requiring sex offenders to live a certain minimum distance from schools or playgrounds which is an intentional method of excluding sex offenders from living in their communities altogether.

Registration is filled with tripwires and is enforced often by bored police or nosey neighbors.  Even homeless people must comply.  Failure to register as a sex offender in itself is a 3rd degree felony (2-10 years).

It goes without saying registration is very stigmatizing.  The stigma hurts not only the sex offender but punishes their family, too for being loyal.  Families suffer the choice between abandoning their loved one or themselves suffering retaliation in housing and at work.  Sex offenders are at heightened risk for suicide.


Deferred Adjudication

Deferred adjudication is a form of probation whereby a person pleads guilty but is not found guilty.  The person is placed on probation for a specific amount of time.  If they complete the probation the case against them is “dismissed.”  Dismissed under Texas law for deferred doesn’t really mean what we all think – it just means the case is over.

Deferred in a sex case sounds great – but is really often a trap door.  Name all 50 states in ten seconds.  Name every President of the United States in 30 seconds.  Sex offender probation isn’t quite that hard – but it can be extremely onerous and taxing.

The downside is if a person’s deferred is revoked – they are subject to the entire punishment range for the original offense.  So, for a first degree felony (5-99 years or life) – the person could actually get a life sentence if they unsuccessfully attempt deferred adjudication.

Additionally deferred in every case also triggers sex offender registration.

Deferred is also a mechanism prosecutors use if they have weak cases to bait folks into pleading.  If the person accepts the deferred and then has a hard time – the person can no longer argue they were innocent to a jury.  The only issue before the court is whether the person violated deferred.

There are benefits to deferred.  It isn’t prison and when the case is over the person can deny having been “convicted” although they cannot deny having been arrested, charged, or pleading guilty.  If they are charged again with a sexual abuse charge – the deferred counts as a conviction.

Completing deferred on a sexual abuse charge does not entitle the person to have their case sealed, expunged, or otherwise hidden from the public in any way.

Sexual abuse charges where a person is eligible for deferred (depending on their criminal history) are:

  • Aggravated sexual assault of a child;
  • Sexual assault of a child;
  • Indecency by contact;
  • Indecency by exposure.

Sex Offender Probation

The main difference between sex offender probation and deferred adjudication is the person is convicted prior to being placed on probation.  This has importance beyond being able to claim a person was never convicted of an offense.  The conviction actually caps the defendant’s legal exposure to prison.

In other words if the defendant violates probation and is sent to prison – it would legally be capped at the underlying sentence.  A person cannot be placed on probation for more than a 10-year sentence in any case.  Thus, being “convicted” of a sex offense in some ways is actually better than being placed on deferred for a sex offense.

The requirements of sex offender probation are equally as daunting and difficult as if someone is on deferred.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.




Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 8: Double Jeopardy

November 29, 2020

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Today I’m covering an extremely technical legal aspect of sexual abuse cases which tends to be problematic for the courts – double jeopardy.  For the 40,000 foot view of all my blogs in the sexual abuse categories you can read here.

Why is Double Jeopardy Such a Headache in Sex Cases?

Double jeopardy has different applications.  It prevents folks from being put on trial twice for the same crime.  It also prevents defendants from being convicted and/or sentenced twice of the same crime.

There is a danger defendants are getting convicted and sentenced multiple times for the same singular criminal act simply because our legislature has written so many over-lapping criminal statutes.

For example (and I apologize in advance, as always, for the graphic nature of the subject matter), let’s say there is an act of molestation against a 13-year old which includes the actor causing genital to genital contact of the victim:

In that instance the following criminal offenses have been committed:

  • Indecency by exposure (2-10 years TDC)
  • Indecency by contact (2-20 years TDC)
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child (5-99 years or life).

But did the legislature intend for there to be three distinct punishments or just one?  If the answer is three punishments then a person could be sentenced to up to 129 years in prison.  We hear these type of sentences in other States, but not Texas.

This is a routine challenge for prosecutors to properly legally strategize as well as Courts and defense lawyers to make sure these things are properly legally handled.

Prosecutors obviously don’t want a defendant acquitted merely because they fail to prove the highest possible charges.  It’s a common tactic for prosecutors to “plead in the alternative” or to plead lesser charges as well as the higher charges for that very possibility.

But here’s the danger for the prosecutors – they risk having some of their good convictions vacated on appeal if those convictions punish someone twice for the same distinct criminal act.

Lesser Included Offenses

One of the challenges is because of what are known as “lesser included offenses” or “lesser included.”  A lesser included means a charge within a charge.  For example, if the prosecution alleges theft over $100 but less than $750 – but at trial it is shown the item stolen was only worth $98 – then defendant may be guilty of the “lesser included” charge of theft under $100.

It’s unfortunately not as clear-cut in sex crimes with regards to “lesser included” offenses.  This is because the statutory scheme by the legislature simply didn’t draft the offenses the same way theft charges or assault charges are drafted.

The test for whether a charge is a “lesser included” offense is if one charge contains an element (a required unit of proof) which the potentially greater charge does not.

Areas Where the Law Gets Extremely Messy

One of the distinct problems with sexual abuse cases is there tend to be often not only multiple allegations of different acts of abuse – but those acts are often alleged to have been committed on different dates and frequently at different places.  Because these cases deal with children who aren’t always the best at communicating the abuse they’ve suffered to the authorities, the courts and lawyers dealing with the cases have a hard time sorting out things too.

Often a prosecutor can charge the defendant with continuous sexual abuse of a child – which tends to “clean up” and legally simplify the charges and the jeopardy issues.  Then again, it’s hard to blame a prosecutor, too, for simply alleging every charge they can articulate in every different way so as to make sure the defendant is convicted.  But the prosecutor may be opening the door to double jeopardy issues down the road on appeal if they do so.

Why Double Jeopardy is an Important Issue

The way a case is charged by the prosecutor affects everything from plea negotiation, preparation of the defense and even frequently post-conviction if the defendant is seeking an appeal.  Sorting out and quantifying the legal impact of the prosecution “throwing the book” at your client is simply part of defending these types of abuse cases.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 7: The Confrontation Clause

November 28, 2020

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

I’m continuing my series of blogs today on sexual abuse charges.  I’ve broken down the categories into three:  the technical or legal components, the subjective nature of the evidence, and finally the advocacy related topics from the defense perspective.

Today I’m talking about the importance of the confrontation clause under the sixth amendment of the US Constitution to sexual abuse charges which is a common denominator in any sexual molestation charge.

What is the Confrontation Clause?

Your right to confront means the right to cross examine your accusers in open court.

I’m continually amazed by the depth of human intuition and understanding of the framers of our constitution.  Even back in 1789 they seemed to know not just the mob mentality of “the good guys” who prosecute or bring charges – but also some of the mental laziness which comes along with it.  What I mean is asking an accuser “what happened…” followed then by “and then what happened…” and “what happened after that…” doesn’t necessarily get you to the truth.

Cross examination allows the questioner to ask pointed, leading questions to state’s witnesses – questions the accused or witnesses from the state may not want to answer yet are required to do so.

One of my favorite quotes about cross examination:

Cross-examination is beyond any doubt the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth … Cross-examination, not trial by jury, is the great and permanent contribution of the Anglo-American system of law to improved methods of trial-procedure.

– John Henry Wigmore

How Does the Right to Confront Impact Sexual Abuse Cases?

Your right to confront means the accuser likely has to testify in almost any case.  There are several rules in place in particular for cases involving child-witnesses.

  • The Testimony Has to Be Live

Courts have been clear:  the right to confront means the right to confront before a jury.  In fact, many of the opinions involving child sexual abuse cases where the prosecution has wanted to have a child testify via closed-circuit television are now particularly applicable as authority during the COVID-19 crisis.  Legally the consensus is a “Zoom” or virtual trial would violate these precedents set by child sexual abuse cases.

  • Outcry Laws

The prosecution is allowed to call witnesses known as “outcry” witnesses.  An outcry witness is any person over 18 years old who was the first adult to hear of the sexual abuse claim from a child.  Courts have construed outcry as a “process” so it’s not uncommon to have several outcry witnesses – some of whom are law enforcement interviewers – all come and testify in an effort to fortify the child’s claim.

An outcry witness can even contradict a child in cases where a child recants an outcry.

One important concept about an outcry witness is they can never replace a child witness altogether.  If the child witness does not or otherwise cannot legally testify – neither can the outcry witness.

  • A Child Witness Must be Competent to Testify

All witnesses have to be “legally competent” to testify.  Texas Rule of Evidence 601(a)(2) deals with children and the judge can examine them to see if they have “sufficient intellect” to testify concerning the matters at issue.  If the court determines the child does not have the ability to testify – then again – they are “unavailable” for confrontation rules and the outcry witnesses cannot replace them.

When is it Not Necessary for a Child Witness to Testify During a Sexual Abuse Case?

The prosecution is tasked with proving each element of a case beyond a reasonable doubt to the finder of fact (either a judge or a jury).  It would not be necessary for a child to testify where the elements of the case can be established through other witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the events – typically eye witnesses but also potentially medical experts if there is sufficient medical evidence in any particular case.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 6: Indecency With a Child by Exposure

November 27, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Today we’ll talk about the basic law of indecency with a child by exposure in my continuing blog series about sexual abuse charges.  It goes without saying sexual abuse is an incredibly complex topic in every way – so you can reference this blog as an index to the others including this one.

What is Indecency By Exposure?

This is where a person either exposes themselves to a child or causes the child to expose themselves to any person.  The lynchpin to the exposure being a crime is it must be done with “intent to gratify or arouse any person.”  See Tex.Pen.C. 21.11(a)(2).

Like with Indecency by contact – the legislature felt it better for a jury to decide which situations constituted an offense and which didn’t.

Indecency by exposure is considered an act of sexual abuse for the purposes of the “continuous sexual abuse of a child” statute.

The “Romeo and Juliet defense” is available for indecency by exposure if the actor is not more than three years older than the victim and the victim is 14 years or older.

Sex Offender Registration – A Major Difference

One major difference between indecency by exposure and indecency by contact are the sex offender registration requirements under Chapter 62 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.  Indecency by exposure triggers a ten-year registration instead of a lifetime registration.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.


Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 5: Indecency With a Child by Contact

November 26, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

There is too much ground to cover in blogging about the technical, practical, and the defense of sexual abuse charges to do the topic justice in just a hand-full of articles.  This is why I’ve chopped up the topic into a series and today I’m writing about the technical aspects of the Texas Law on Indecency with a child by contact.

What is Indecency by Contact?

Indecency by contact occurs where the actor either knowingly or intentionally – with the intent to arouse any person – makes actual “sexual contact with a child.”

Indecency is codified in Tex.Pen.C. 21.11.  Section (c) deals with the lynchpin of indecency with a child by contact by defining “sexual contact”:

(c) In this section, “sexual contact” means the following acts, if committed with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person:

(1) any touching by a person, including touching through clothing, of the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of a child; or

(2) any touching of any part of the body of a child, including touching through clothing, with the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of a person.

Unlike sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and “super” aggravated sexual assault of a child, though, Indecency by contact requires intent to “arouse or gratify.”

This is probably because the legislature understood when drafting the sexual assault charges – certain types of sexual contact (i.e. genital to genital or mouth to genital) a judge or jury could automatically infer the intent of the actor was to “arouse or gratify” based on the type of contact alone.

With indecency by contact, however, the legislature probably understood without adding the language that “sexual contact” includes the intent to arouse or gratify – they could potentially criminalize potentially routine, inadvertent, or innocuous contact between adults and children such as when a child gives a bear-hug to her grandma or a parent bathes their child.

Punishment for Indecency By Contact

Indecency by Contact is a 2nd Degree felony punishable between 2 and 20 years in the Texas prisons. Probation and deferred adjudication are possible depending on the person’s criminal history.  It requires lifetime sex offender registration.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.