The crime of sexual abuse of a spouse is woefully misunderstood – sometimes by both the abused spouse and his or her alleged abuser. The legal system as it relates to sexual assault is complicated, and when the matter involves a spouse, things can become that much more so. If you have been accused of sexual assault of a spouse, navigating the State’s legal system is challenging at best, and working closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney is in the best interest of your case and your future.
An Outdated Notion
In the days of yore, the law accepted the old-fashioned notion that a woman could not be sexually abused by her husband (this is back in the day when sexual abuse was only considered in terms of a man abusing a woman). These outdated notions, however, have changed, and every state in the nation addresses the crime of sexual abuse of a spouse (or intimate partner) in one way or another. While a few states incorporate exceptions that – in some situations – lessen the charge when spouses are involved, Texas is not one of these states.
Sexual Assault of a Spouse
In the State of Texas, sexual assault of one’s spouse is illegal. Marital rape is a form of sexual assault, and it can be elevated to aggravated sexual assault if there are any aggravating factors involved. Such factors include:
Use of a weapon in the course of the assault
Use of violence in the course of the assault
Use of serious threat in the course of the assault
Use of a date rape drug, which includes any substance that is capable of rendering the victim incapable of appraising the nature of the act in question and/or of resisting the act in question
It is important to note that Texas does not address the matter of sexual assault of a spouse specifically – sexual assault of anyone is illegal, which makes sexual assault of a spouse illegal. Further, in the State of Texas, sexual assault laws are gender-neutral, which makes sexual assault of a same-sex spouse also against the law.
The Sexual Assault Charge
If your spouse accuses you of sexual assault, the charge will be either sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault.
The charge of sexual assault of a spouse, which is the charge of sexual assault (that in this situation involves spouses), refers to knowingly or intentionally causing the other person’s mouth, anus, or sexual organs to be penetrated without his or her consent. Causing one’s sexual organs to come into contact with the other person’s mouth, anus, or sexual organs without his or her consent also qualifies as sexual assault.
Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Spouse
The charge of aggravated sexual assault of a spouse, which is the charge of aggravated sexual assault (that in this situation involves spouses), refers to an act of sexual assault in which aggravating factors are present. Examples include:
Sexual assault that involves kidnapping
Sexual assault that leaves the victim seriously injured
Sexual assault that involves a deadly weapon
Sexual assault that causes the victim to fear for his or her life
Sexual assault that is committed in tandem with a date rape drug
The Statute of Limitations
When sexual assault happens between married couples or intimate partners, there can be a good deal of shame and/or uncertainty involved. The fact is that, even though the law has moved forward in this capacity, the thinking of some couples has not. Some victims and some alleged perpetrators fail to recognize that the fact of marriage does not void a sexual assault – nor does it render sexual assault an impossibility. This and many other factors make the statute of limitations regarding spousal sexual assault critical. In Texas, there is a limit to how long people have to file sexual abuse claims, and this time frame is known as the statute of limitations. While the time limit varies according to the specifics involved, including the victim’s age, in most cases that relate to charges of sexual assault of a spouse, the statute of limitations is ten years from the date of the alleged sexual assault. This statute of limitations is intended to balance the rights of the accused with the rights of his or her accuser. Consider the following challenges involved:
DNA evidence tends to degrade quickly.
Proving that an assault happened years after the fact can be exceptionally difficult (if not impossible) for the prosecution to accomplish.
Because sexual abuse that involves spouses is often fraught with shame and/or confusion, it can take a considerable amount of time for a victim to come forward.
Sexual assault charges after the fact are often built on photographic evidence, journal entries, eyewitness testimony regarding the victim’s appearance and/or demeanor at the time, and more – which can amount to a weak case.
Building a strong defense against a sexual assault charge after the fact is similarly challenging (a past alibi can be difficult to establish after a considerable amount of time has passed, for example).
The statute of limitations is intended to help balance these competing forces – in support of both parties’ legal rights.
The penalties for sexual abuse of a spouse are the same as they are for sexual assault generally (because Texas does not carve out a specific sexual abuse charge for spouses). The penalties and fines associated with a conviction include the following:
A conviction for sexual assault is a second-degree felony, which comes with a sentence of from 2 to 20 years in prison and with fines of up to $10,000.
A conviction for aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree felony, which comes with a sentence of from 5 to 99 years in prison and with fines of up to $10,000.
Either conviction can lead to the requirement of inclusion in the sex offender registry, and these crimes generally require registry for life.
The Sex Offender Registry
Registration as a sex offender is required of all people who are convicted of certain sexually based crimes. The registry is public information that can leave registrants both ostracized and stigmatized while also diminishing their ability to make a living, live where they choose, and more. Registered sex offenders in the State of Texas are required to verify their records at least once each year, and certain kinds of sexually based crimes require lifetime registration. Failure to register as a sex offender (and failing to verify registration) – if required to do so – is a felony in its own right.
The Sex Offender Registry and Risk Levels
In the State of Texas, sex offender registrants are grouped into one of three risk classifications, including:
Low-risk offenders who are not considered likely to reoffend and commit a sexual crime
Moderate risk offenders who may re-offend and commit a sexual crime
High-risk offenders who pose a real threat of re-offending and committing a sexual crime
Specific information about each entrant is contained in the registry, including:
A photo or photos of him or her
His or her physical description, including height, weight, race, and gender
His or her date of birth
Any aliases that he or she uses
His or her physical address
The risk level associated with him or her
Details about the conviction that led to registry
It is the registrant’s obligation to keep this information updated.
The registry does not include any of the following kinds of information:
The registrant’s social security number or driver’s license number
Any telephone numbers for the registrant
Any identifying information for the registrant’s employer
Any information that would help identify the registrant’s victim
Failure to Register
If someone who is required to register fails to do so, it is a felony offense, and a conviction can lead to the following fines and penalties:
If the registrant is required to register for life but fails to do so, it is a third-degree felony, and a conviction can lead to fines of up to $10,000 and from 2 to 10 years in prison.
If the registrant is required to register for life and to verify every 90 days but fails to do so, it is a second-degree felony, and a conviction can lead to fines of up to $10,000 and from 2 to 20 years in prison.
The offense is elevated to a felony of the next degree if the person who fails to register has a prior conviction or if he or she engaged in fraudulence in relation to the registry.
A person who is required to register must do so within seven days of arriving in the community where he or she intends to reside. To register, the person must report to local law enforcement – where he or she will need to fill out a registration form (including extensive personal information). The matter does not end here, however. Within seven days of completing this form, the registrant must report back to the original law enforcement authority with proof of his or her identity and residency and will need to sign off on the form’s accuracy, which is known as verification. Unfortunately, registrants who are very careful to ensure they do everything right sometimes miss this verification step and can potentially face felony charges as a result. Generally, registrants are required to report to local law enforcement on a yearly basis to verify the accuracy of the registration information anew. Some registrants, however, are required to do so every 90 days (based on the severity of the charge, risk level, and the number of prior convictions involved).
Bringing Your Strongest Defense
If you have been accused of sexually assaulting your spouse, you may be at an absolute loss regarding how to defend yourself. The truth is that these cases can feel like he said, she said situations from the get-go, and it is exceedingly difficult to prove that something did not happen. The fact is that spousal sexual assault cases are some of the most challenging out there, and bringing your strongest defense from the outset is a must.
Presence of Consent
Cases involving spousal sexual assault often boil down to consent, which can be a bit murkier when the parties involved are married. Sexual assault charges hinge on the absence of consent, and if you can demonstrate that your spouse was in consent (admittedly a difficult thing to prove), the charges may be dismissed entirely.
Lack of Evidence
Just as it is difficult to prove that your spouse did consent to the act in question, it is difficult for him or her to prove that he or she did not consent to the act in question. As such, your defense may focus on his or her lack of evidence in the matter. In order to convict you of a crime, the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high bar and which requires a considerable amount of evidence.
When it comes to sexual assault charges, false accusations do happen, and in the context of marriage, they may be more common. While sexual assault charges must be taken seriously, false accusations are also a serious matter. If you are facing false charges, it is time to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If a charge of sexual assault of your spouse (or any criminal charge) has been levied against you, you face serious potential consequences that must be taken seriously. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a seasoned criminal defense lawyer who dedicates his practice to skillfully defending the legal rights of clients like you – in focused pursuit of beneficial case resolutions. Your case and your future are too important not to reach out and contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information about what we can do to help you today.