The Burden of Proof in Sex Crimes: What to Know
The burden of proof in sex crimes cases is an essential factor in how a lawyer builds their defense. When you face a charge, claim, or allegation for a sexual offense in Texas, it’s common to wonder how the evidence works. If you need concise advice, consult a Houston criminal lawyer for guidance on your specific case.
For now, our firm is here to offer a general overview that shows that standards courts follow in most Texas cases.
Burden of Proof in Sex Crimes: “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”
In a Texas sex crime case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For defendants, this means that the prosecution bears the legal burden of proof. It is on them to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
When they do so, they have to show that there is no room within the facts for another explanation. The sole resolution must be that the defendant committed the offense. This level of proof must apply to each element of the offense.
However, “beyond a reasonable doubt” does not equate to absolute proof. Instead, it is as close to absolute certainty as possible. Generally speaking, this is the highest legal standard.
As such, this is not solely the burden of proof in sex crimes. In fact, it is the standard of proof across criminal cases throughout the country. It’s part of the “due process” clause in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
Additionally, when the trial begins, it is essential that the jury starts with a presumption of innocence. Then, prosecutors must establish the evidence to show that there is no reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.
As such, it falls to the prosecutors, not a sex crime defense attorney, to shoulder the burden of proof.
Elements of Burden of Proof
When it comes to the burden of proof in sex crimes, the courts have established two aspects of the reasonable doubt standard.
- Burden of production means that the prosecution produced enough evidence to establish every element of an offense as fact.
- Burden of persuasion requires the prosecution to persuade jurors that they applied the standard to every aspect of the offense.
Do Other Standards of Proof Apply?
In Texas sex crimes trials, the prosecution cannot prove guilt by any other standard of proof. Typically, these standards apply solely to civil cases. For example, the standard of “a preponderance of evidence” still allows room for doubt. Additionally, “clear and convincing evidence” only shows that something is probably or likely.
Instead, the burden of proof in sex crimes is for the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
While other standards leave room for interpretation, this remains the highest legal standard for proof. Generally, it applies to criminal trials specifically because the stakes are so high. In some cases, a defendant might face up to 99 years when found guilty of a sex crime.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on Texas Sex Crimes?
In addition to the burden of proof in sex crimes cases, prosecutors who hope to charge someone with a crime have to abide by the Texas statute of limitations for the crimes. These statutes set limits as to how much time may pass before it’s no longer possible to charge someone.
Generally, this varies depending on the severity of the crime.
In Texas, some crimes have no limit on how much time passes. For example, there is no statute of limitations on the following charges.
- Sexual assault of a child
- Indecency with a child
- Aggravated sexual assault of a child
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child
- Sexual assault of an adult (when there is DNA evidence available)
Then, the statute drops to 20 years for the following crimes.
- Burglary with the intent to commit a sex crime
- Aggravated kidnapping with the intent to commit a sex crime
- Sexual performance by a child
From there, the statute lowers to 10 years for the following crimes.
- Sexual assault of an adult (with no DNA evidence)
- Aggravated sexual assault of an adult
So, what does this all mean? The prosecution has to prove the defendant committed the crime within the period of the statute of limitations. However, as mentioned, some crimes have no limitations at all.
Note: It’s important to recognize that “rape” is not a legal term in Texas. Instead, it falls under various forms of “sexual assault.”
A Difficult Standard to Prove
When it comes to rape and sexual assault cases, it is often difficult to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Often, the prosecution cites the definition under the Texas Penal Code as part of the problem. It places an emphasis on the use of coercion, violence, or physical force.
As such, it’s not enough for a potential victim to say “no.” Instead, the burden of proof requires that they show the refusal was overcome by force.
Defenses Against Sex Crime Allegations
With the high burden of proof in sex crimes cases, there are several defenses that offer potential against sexual assault charges.
One option is an “affirmative defense.” In this method, the criminal lawyer proves facts through a preponderance of evidence that shows innocence. Still, the prosecution has to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. However, if the defense lawyer convinces the jury that the facts of the affirmative defense are true, they may find the client not guilty.
Do You or a Loved One Need Legal Representation?
If you face allegations of sex crimes in the Greater Houston Area, you need an experienced Houston criminal lawyer to protect your rights and your future.
Contact our criminal defense law firm for a free, confidential consultation. Our legal team is ready to offer guidance and fight for the best possible outcome in your case.