judge looking at lawyer and defendantThis is the fourth post in a series discussing how to defend against second-degree felony charges in Austin and other Texas areas. My last article discussed the criminal charges that stem from indecency with a child. It is important to understand the legal process after one has been charged with a crime. These types of matters are taken very seriously by the Court and it is best to retain an experienced criminal lawyer to protect your rights. This post will discuss defending against charges of sexual assault and is also intended to assist you with choosing counsel. If you or someone you love is in need of legal advice, contact my office today to speak with a criminal defense lawyer.

Sexual assault can be a first or second degree felony in the State of Texas

Under Texas Penal Code Ch 22.011, the crime of sexual assault can include intercourse and penetration without consent, sexual abuse of an individual who cannot consent due to a disability, and sexual contact with a minor. A sexual assault is generally a second-degree felony unless there are aggravating circumstances that enhance the charge to a first-degree offense. Aggravating circumstances include causing serious bodily injury or death to the victim, kidnapping the victim, use of a deadly weapon, or whether the victim was a minor, a disabled individual or elderly. If you are convicted of second-degree sexual assault, the penalty can range from 2 to 20 years in state prison and/or a fine up to $10,000. A conviction of aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree felony and carries a penalty of 5 to 99 years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. However, the consequences of a conviction of any felony goes beyond a prison term and can affect you for your entire life. A conviction will require the defendant to register as a sex offender. Also, the appearance of a felony on a background check will gravely affect one’s ability to find employment or housing in the future.

People are often surprised to learn what constitutes sexual assault in the 2nd degree pursuant to the Texas Penal Code. To be convicted of a 2nd degree felony for sexual assault does not require an actual rape. The circumstances surrounding the sexual conduct, and the nature and age of the victim, can cause the act of intercourse to become a felony offense. For example, forcible and violent intercourse or sexual contact regardless of whether consent is given, constitutes a sexual assault in the 2nd degree. Additionally, the law defines “coercive sexual acts” as sexual assault in the 2nd degree. Therefore, if a defendant threatens the victim in a coercive way, the act of intercourse could rise to the level of a second-degree felony even if no violence occurred. It is also possible that the defendant can face multiple counts and charges related to the same incident. For example, if the defendant entered the victim’s property after previously being told to stay away, the defendant may also be charged with both burglary and trespassing.

Steps Austin residents can take to defend themselves against sexual assault charges

There are legal and factual issues which one may potentially raise in their defense. First, the Fourth Amendment requires the police to have probable cause of criminal activity in order to conduct a search or seizure of a person’s property. Law enforcement must typically obtain a warrant before performing a search. Any evidence produced without meeting these requirements can be deemed inadmissible for trial. Additionally, the prosecution will commonly seek to establish eyewitness identification of the defendant by the victim or a witness. However, if the police used overly suggestive procedures to obtain the initial identification then the witnesses may be prevented from testifying in court. Lastly, it is possible that the charges are based on false accusations. It may be possible to defend against such accusations at trial.

These types of criminal matters have the potential for significant and lifelong consequences. It is imperative that you hire an attorney with experience in defending against sexual assault charges in Texas. Once charged, the prosecution will seek to present their best case against a defendant, and it is important to understand the process and protect your rights. I am an Austin criminal defense lawyer who has been practicing law since 1995 and am Board Certified in Criminal Defense by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Contact me online or by telephone to speak with an attorney. My office also serves the cities of Rollingwood, Round Rock, Elgin, Jonestown, Manor, Bee Cave, Lago Vista, Sunset Valley, Lakeway, Creedmoor, Georgetown, Cedar Park, Leander, and San Marcos, Texas.