The Burden of Proof for Sex Crimes in Texas
Posted on May 22, 2015 7:00am UTC
In criminal cases, Texas law states that jurors must abide by a concept known as “beyond a reasonable doubt” when they issue a guilty verdict. This means that, in order to convict a defendant of a sexual offense, the jury must believe that they have no reasonable doubts about the defendant’s guilt. There must be a sufficient amount of specific evidence that proves to the jury that the defendant committed every aspect of the sex crime for which he or she is accused.
Of course, this is a tough burden of proof. In Texas, that burden of proof falls squarely on the shoulders of the prosecution.
What exactly does this mean? A closer look at Texas law will provide an explanation.
What Is The Burden of Proof?
In Texas, the prosecution is required to introduce evidence that proves a defendant is likely guilty of a sex crime for which they have been accused. For example, the prosecution could introduce evidence from police reports, witness testimony or security camera footage that implicates the defendant. The prosecution might use evidence that shows:
- The defendant was arrested while committing sexual assault
- The defendant attempted to pay for sex with an undercover officer
- The defendant was seen fleeing the scene of a sexual assault
- The defendant was identified by an eyewitness or victim
The Role of The Defense
Once the prosecution has attempted to prove that a defendant was involved in a sex crime, the burden of proof shifts to the defense. The defense then has to introduce evidence showing that the defendant is not guilty of the sex crime for which they are accused.
The burden of proof for the defense is slightly less severe than it is for the prosecution. While the prosecution must use evidence to show that the defendant is guilty of every element of a crime, the defense only has to create doubt about individual elements of the crime.
For example, the defense could counter the prosecution’s evidence by using their own evidence to claim that:
- The defendant was present at the scene of a sex crime but not involved
- The defendant was coerced into paying for sex
- The defendant was fleeing the scene for an unrelated reason
- The defendant was incorrectly identified by an eyewitness or victim
Proving Guilt in Sex Crimes
Crimes of a sexual nature are unique in the legal system. This is because, in many of these cases, a lack of physical evidence may make proving guilt difficult. For instance, in cases of sexual assault, an investigation may not recover any physical evidence. In these cases, the only evidence may be allegations by the alleged victim against the accused.
Additionally, many cases of sexual assault can occur when the alleged victim is unconscious or intoxicated. This can make an accurate identification of the perpetrator difficult or impossible.
Defending Against Sex Crime Allegations
The defense may be able to use a lack of physical evidence as a cornerstone of their case for the defendant’s innocence. They may be able to raise enough doubt about an element of the case that makes it unlikely for the jury to reach a guilty verdict. If the jury cannot reach a consensus that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for every aspect of the alleged crime, the charges may be reduced or dropped.
For example, the defense could introduce evidence in an attempt to show that:
- The alleged victim gave consent for sexual activity
- The alleged victim lied or misrepresented the facts of the case
- The alleged victim misidentified the perpetrator
- The alleged victim was seeking revenge against the defendant
If the defense can introduce enough compelling evidence to create doubt about one element of a sex crime, the burden of proof will shift back to the prosecution. If this happens, the prosecution will have to use evidence to prove the other elements of the crime. They may also have to bring new evidence to counter the defense’s evidence.
If they are unable to do so, the jury may be unable to reach a guilty verdict. The charges may then be reduced to a less serious offense or dropped altogether.
Photo Matt Freedman | Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0