Short of murder, sexual assault is one of the most grievous offenses one person can commit against another. Therefore, even intangible allegations are taken seriously by Texas law enforcement, and usually trigger a sexual assault investigation.
If you are facing allegations of any form of sexual assault, you are likely frightened and unsure of what comes next. That’s why we’ve put together a guide covering how the sexual assault investigation process works, what you can expect if you’re accused or convicted of sexual assault, and how to ensure that your rights are protected and the investigation is as fair as possible.
How Texas Handles the Sexual Assault Investigation Process
When law enforcement investigates a suspected sexual assault, they don’t start by presuming that the accused assailant is innocent. That’s not their job. Instead, their job is to name a suspect or suspects, and collect as much condemning evidence as possible.
This means that the sexual assault investigation process often takes an aggressive stance against the accused.
Law enforcement uses a number of tactics to investigate allegations of sexual assault. Some are reasonable and expected, but others could surprise you:
- Collect any physical evidence of the alleged assault by examining the victim, usually as soon as possible after the alleged offense
- Discreetly record conversations between the alleged victim and perpetrator, often after the alleged victim has been coached on what to say or ask
- Send texts to the suspect from the alleged victim’s phone in an attempt to elicit an apology or other incriminating response
What You Can Expect as a Texas Sexual Assault Suspect
Often, you will be the last to know that you’re facing sexual assault allegations. Law enforcement is likely to collect as much evidence and information from the alleged victim and witnesses as possible before even approaching someone and accusing them. Once they do, an aggressive interrogation generally ensues.
Many people accused of sexual assault are surprised by how one-sided the sexual assault investigation process can be, particularly if they have no prior contact with law enforcement.
- It is perfectly legal for the police to lie to you during an interrogation. This frequently involves misconstruing or even making up supposed “evidence” against you.
- Contrastingly, if you lie during the interrogation, you can be charged with the separate crime of providing false information to law enforcement, and/or this information can be used against you in court to paint you as a liar and destroy your credibility.
- Even if you tell the truth in an interrogation, your statements can be misconstrued or misrepresented.
- Inconsistencies in suspect statements are common, even if the suspect is innocent. This is because anyone would be nervous during an interrogation! However, any inconsistencies in your story can and will be used against you.
Sexual Assault Sentencing and Penalties in Texas
If you are convicted of sexual assault, the consequences are grave, even if the investigative process that resulted in your conviction was, to say the least, one-sided.
Sexual assault is always a felony in the state of Texas. Depending on the circumstances of the alleged offense, you could face anywhere between 2-20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Additionally, a sexual assault conviction generally triggers long-lasting consequences that affect you long after your sentence is served:
- Required sex offender registration, in which your name, picture, workplace, and residence will be listed in a national database, and appear on a map of registered offenders.
- Employment restrictions, in which you’re legally barred from holding certain occupations, but are less likely to be hired for any occupation due to your criminal record.
- Housing restrictions, in which you’re legally barred from living in certain locations, and rental applications are likely to be rejected due to criminal background checks.
- The societal and emotional stigma of being labeled a rapist.
Defending Yourself Against Texas Sexual Assault Allegations
If you find that you’re facing sexual assault allegations, the decisions that you make in the following days or even minutes could determine the course of your future. Acting quickly and appropriately could make the difference between a conviction or your case being thrown out entirely.
First, if you have any reason to even think that you could be accused of sexual assault, retain an experienced attorney as soon as possible. He or she will be familiar with the investigative process, and can help you avoid the traps investigators lay for the accused.
Secondly, do not ever speak to law enforcement without a lawyer present. Your interrogators could even encourage you not to contact an attorney, claiming that you have “nothing to worry about” if you’re innocent. Anyone experienced with the legal system will tell you not to fall for this, even if you are in fact 100% innocent and don’t even know why you’re being interviewed.
The bottom line is that sexual assault investigations are aggressive, and are skewed in the favor of the prosecution. If you find yourself facing allegations or even think that you could, act fast to defend yourself as aggressively as law enforcement will inevitably pursue you.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. He has been named one of the 3 Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, recognized by Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, Avvo, and others, and he is Lead Counsel rated.