As criminal defense lawyer in Dallas, Texas, I handle many different kinds of cases involving alleged sexual assaults on minors. Any crime of that type is horrible, but a mere accusation can tear families apart and turn the accused’s world upside down. An accusation can result in the loss of contact with loved ones, family members being turned against each other, the loss of a job, the ability to find a new job, and the stigma of being accused of a terrible crime, not to mention the danger of a long prison sentence if there is a conviction. For these reasons, if you or a loved one is charged with sexual assault of a child in Dallas, Texas, you need the best representation you can get.
After representing many people accused of this crime, I understand how devastating an accusation can be and how much fear and anxiety it can cause. Anyone who is accused of sexual assault of a child, or anyone whose loved one is accused of it, wants to make sure that they hire an excellent lawyer who has had experience and success in defending people accused of this particular type of crime. When it feels like their life is crumbling around them, they want to be assured that they are in good hands.
Having successfully tried multiple cases in Texas involving accusations of sexual assault on a child, and having spoken to jurors in those cases, I know that this kind of case is unique for a number of reasons. They include how juries view these cases, how the district attorney’s office views them, and how to present the best possible defense, both before and during trial.
In Texas, the crime of sexual assault of a child can take many forms. For example, it can involve alleged touching of a child with a hand on the child’s private parts over their clothes. It does not have to involve sexual intercourse or oral sex, and because it can occur over the clothes, it does not have to involve direct physical contact between the skin of the accused and the skin of the alleged victim.
In most cases, there will not be physical or medical evidence that proves that the crime occurred. For example, how could there be physical evidence that someone touched a child’s private parts over their clothes. There will probably also be no eyewitnesses other than the accuser and the accused.
Many people accused of sexually assaulting a child in Dallas ask me, “How can they prove I am guilty if they do not have any proof?” In an age of television shows like NCIS and Law and Order: SVU, a lot of people understandably expect criminal trials to require scientific proof, like DNA evidence. Although that may be what we see on television, the law does not require scientific, medical, or video proof. More importantly, juries find people guilty of crimes all the time based only on the testimony of the accuser. That may seem strange, but it is true. The law says that a person cannot be convicted of a crime unless the jury is convinced that the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but juries can be, and often are, persuaded that a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based only on the testimony of an accuser.
To understand why this is the case in child sexual assault cases, you have to understand how jurors see these cases. I know, because I have talked to them about it after trials. Even if a judge instructs the jury that the State has the burden of proof that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, many jurors in child sexual assault cases will ignore this, often without realizing it, and will require that the accused prove that they are innocent. Lawyers call this “flipping the burden of proof,” because the law says the burden of proof is on the State, not the defendant.
There are many reasons why a juror might do this. They might identify with the child or feel protective toward the child. They might believe children tend to tell the truth. They might believe that a child would not falsely accuse someone of a crime this serious. They, or a close friend or relative, might have had experiences that lead them to believe the accuser in these cases. In other words, these jurors have a bias in favor of the child or against the accused.
As a lawyer, what can you do about this? A lot, actually, if you know what you are doing. My experience trying these cases and talking to actual jurors gives me a great deal of insight into the motivations of potential jurors and how to identify, as well as possible, the ones with these biases. During jury selection, I want to prevent them from getting on the jury, if at all possible.
I have also found that there are effective ways to convince even jurors with built-in biases to follow the law, to find a defendant “not guilty” if the State has not truly proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and to feel good about doing it. To do that, a lawyer must really tap into the shared values that all of us have, in order to overcome a juror’s bias in favor of a child accuser and against the accused.
Each criminal case involving alleged sexual assault of a child is unique. That means that the defense of each case is unique. There is no cookie-cutter defense. Sometimes, the defense may be that the alleged conduct did not happen. This could be because the accuser is lying. It could also be because the accused is mistaken, misremembering, or is shading the truth. There are different reasons why a child might do this. It could be that the child wants revenge for something. It could be that an adult has “put the child up to it,” either by convincing the child to lie, or by influencing the child to shade the truth. A lawyer must dig into the facts to understand the child’s motivations and those of adults who might have tried to influence the child.
Sometimes, the conduct may have occurred, but it might not be criminal conduct. In order to be criminal conduct, for example, in Texas, touching a child on a private area must be for a sexual purpose. If the touching was just an accident, it is not criminal. Similarly, if it was for a medical or first aid purpose, such as putting ointment on a rash, and was not for a sexual purpose, then it is not criminal. Otherwise, a lot of parents who have babies with diaper rash would be committing crimes when they try to help cure it.
In order to present an effective defense of a person accused of sexual abuse of a child, a lawyer must know the facts of the case thoroughly before trial begins. This often means spending a lot of time with the accused going over all of the facts that the accused knows. It can also involve interviewing others who may have knowledge about the alleged crime, such as people who would have been present or nearby when the alleged act or acts occurred.
In most cases involving alleged sexual abuse of a child, there is a videotaped interview of the child by a children’s advocate. It is critical that a defense lawyer review that video multiple times and know it backwards and forwards, in order to be able to point out any favorable parts or any statements that are inconsistent with the child’s trial testimony.
At least once, the defense lawyer should review the videotape with the accused person, because the accused may notice something that the lawyer would not catch or may be able to explain things the lawyer would not understand. This usually involves scheduling a time for both the lawyer and the client to go to the District Attorney’s Office to watch the video together.
One particularly serious accusation under Texas law is “continuous sexual assault” of a child. This means at least two acts of sexual abuse that are separated in time by more than thirty days. The idea is that the crime is more serious if it is not just an isolated act or series of acts. The penalty for a conviction of continuous sexual assault of a child in Texas is severe: no less than twenty-five years in prison, and up to life, all without the possibility of parole. A person charged with continuous sexual assault of a child takes a big risk by going to trial, because the potential penalty is so severe. This is true even though a jury will normally have the option of finding the defendant not guilty of continuous sexual assault of a child, but guilty of the lesser included offense of sexual assault of a child. If you are charged with continuous sexual assault of a child, you are taking an enormous risk if you are not represented by someone with skill and experience in these types of cases.
Not all child sexual abuse cases go to trial. Plea bargaining is very common in these types of cases. Sometimes, prosecutors will agree to a lesser charge of indecency with a child, for example. This kind of plea bargaining can sometimes avoid prison time, but there may be other important consequences to the accused. For example, the accused may have to register as a sex offender for life. The accused also may not be able to have direct contact with any children or live within 1000 feet of a church, school, swimming pool, or other place where young people go.
Under a new law in Texas that took effect in September 2019, a civil court is required to issue a lifetime protective order preventing a defendant convicted of a sexual offense against a child from having contact with the victim for the rest of both of their lives. The only way to modify this protective order is for the victim or the victim’s parental guardian to file a written motion asking the civil court to modify or cancel the protective order.
If the accused is not a United States citizen, any conviction of a sexual assault crime can have important immigration consequences. A conviction will probably mean deportation and will probably prevent the accused from ever becoming a United States citizen or even coming back into the country legally. When I represent people who are not United States citizens, I make sure to work with immigration lawyers I know to try to avoid negative immigration consequences, if possible, and to make sure that my client is fully aware of what could potentially happen to the client’s immigration status if there is a conviction for different crimes.
With so much at stake, and in light of how complicated they can be, anyone who is accused of sexual abuse of a child in Texas needs a highly skilled and experienced lawyer. It is also important to keep the family of the accused as much in the loop as possible. They are often the ones paying the attorney’s fees, and they obviously have a tremendous emotional stake in the outcome. As a lawyer, I want to avoid making a recommendation to a client about what to do with the case, only to have the client’s family get upset because they do not understand why I am making that recommendation. Sometimes, I have to meet with family members separately to explain the facts of the case and the options their loved one has. Before I do that, though, I have an ethical duty to make sure that my client approves me telling family members anything confidential that my client and I have discussed. If the client does not give me that approval, I cannot disclose anything confidential that we have discussed, even to someone who may be paying my bills.
Charges of sexual assault of a child in Texas have all kinds of serious emotional, family, criminal, and possible immigration implications. They are usually complicated and challenging to win, especially for lawyers who do not have significant experience with them. If you or a loved one is charged with sexual abuse of a child in Texas, I have the kind of skill and experience you need and deserve, and I am here to help you.
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If you have not been arrested or charged with a crime, but the police have told you that they would like to talk to you, what do you do? Do not say a thing; let them know you want to use your right to get a lawyer. And do it ASAP.
Whenever you have any dealings with the police, you should be represented by a lawyer. If they are looking for you, if they want to talk to you, if they want to arrest you, or if someone has contacted law enforcement and accused you of a crime, you need a lawyer.
Even if you plan on pleading guilty, it is critical that you hire a criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights. Representing yourself is never a good idea. Even if you plead guilty, you can expect that prosecutors will try to take advantage of your inexperience by only agreeing to a plea deal that is less favorable than they would with a lawyer. Plus, an attorney may be able to spot problems with the government’s case that you would not recognize, like evidence that should be suppressed. Problems like that might result in dismissal of the charges altogether, but just being able to spot them can help negotiate a better deal with a prosecutor. An attorney, especially a former prosecutor like me, can help you protect your rights, evaluate your options, and negotiate with the prosecutors for the most favorable outcome.
In criminal cases, we usually charge a flat rate for everything but trial and a trial fee that is only owed if the case goes to trial. A flat fee means that, no matter how much work the lawyer has to do, you know up front what the fee is going to be. We base our fees on our estimate of the amount of time and work that will be required to defend the case. We are not a factory type of operation, so we generally do not have “grocery store” pricing, in which a given crime costs a set amount regardless of the facts. Each case is different, and we try to tailor our fees to your individual case. That means that we want to find out about your case and that we try to set our fees based on how much work we think your case will take and how complicated it will be.
If you are under investigation, but you have not been charged, we may offer to represent you during the investigation based on an hourly rate with a cost deposit that we bill against. This can benefit you because it can be difficult to predict how much work it will take to represent someone during an investigation, and an hourly rate means that you will only pay for the work done.