From start to finish: how does an allegation of child sex abuse move through the justice system in Collin County? Allegations of sex crimes against children in Collin County and throughout the Dallas-Ft. Worth area usually come to the attention of law enforcement when a child tells an adult that something of a sexual nature happened. This is called an “outcry” statement.
Children generally make outcry statements to a parent, doctor, minister, or teacher. However, when a child outcries about alleged sexual abuse, all adults are required to report it. Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code mandates that anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect must report it immediately. The report may be made to (1) any local or state law enforcement agency, or (2) the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Once the police are notified of possible sex abuse of a child, a formal investigation begins. The police take the child to a forensic interviewer for detailed questioning, usually at a Child Advocacy Center. This interview is video recorded. If formal charges are brought, the video will be available for viewing by defense counsel and the accused; however, Texas law does not require the prosecution to give a copy of the video to the defense. The defense usually views the child’s forensic interview at the district attorney’s office.
If the child’s outcry is near in time to the alleged sexual abuse, she is taken to a hospital or medical clinic for a sexual assault exam, usually performed by a medical doctor or a sexual assault nurse examiner. The child is inspected from head to toe and asked questions about the allegations during this examination. The results of the sexual assault exam will play an important role in the case, and sometimes the defense needs its own medical expert to review the findings.
Soon after the child’s forensic interview, the police normally contact the accused and request a meeting at the police station. The police often minimize the reason for their call to try to induce the accused into meeting and talking. Don’t fall for it. If you or a loved one receives such a call, get in touch with a top-flight criminal defense attorney with successful experience in child abuse cases ASAP.
It is important to keep in mind that if the police have not arrested the suspect, they don’t have to read the Miranda warnings. Miranda warnings advise the accused of the constitutional right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney prior to and during any questioning. So long as the suspect is “free to go” during questioning, the police probably will not read the Miranda warnings. This is one of many reasons why you should NEVER speak with the police without first consulting an attorney experienced in handling sex abuse cases against children.
After the police have interviewed (or attempted to interview) everyone involved, they take steps to arrest the accused. With a few exceptions, to arrest someone for a felony offense that has not occurred in the presence of the police (that is, if the police didn’t see it happen), the officer must write and swear to an affidavit requesting an arrest warrant. A judge must review the affidavit and decide if it demonstrates “probable cause” for the issuance of an arrest warrant. The judge isn’t considering anything outside of the “four corners” of the affidavit. It’s also important to keep in mind that the judge isn’t deciding whether the suspect is “guilty” or “not-guilty,” but only whether “probable cause” exists to issue an arrest warrant.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, probable cause is defined as sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed. The affidavit may contain hearsay and other information which would not be admissible in court. Just because a judge finds that probable cause exists to arrest someone for a sexual crime against a child doesn’t meant the person is guilty. Remember, the judge didn’t hear or consider anything from a defense attorney, didn’t interview the child accuser, didn’t review forensic evidence; rather, the judge only read the police officer’s affidavit.
Once the police officer has obtained an arrest warrant, the accused is arrested. If the suspect has an attorney, most detectives will allow for the suspect to voluntarily surrender at the jail, which prevents them from being arrested at home or at work. This is another benefit to having an attorney in the early stages of a sexual assault investigation in Collin County and throughout the Dallas – Ft. Worth area.
Judges usually set a bond amount when they sign arrest warrants. A bond is the amount of money the accused must pay to obtain release from jail pending trial. Judges have broad discretion in setting bond amounts, and they are often high in cases involving allegations of sexual crimes against children. This is especially true in McKinney, Plano, Dallas, Denton, Frisco, Ft. Worth, and Rockwall, where the district attorney’s offices take a hardline position in these cases.
If the accused can afford bail, then he/she is released from custody pending trial. If the accused cannot afford bail, then he/she can request that the court lower the amount of bail required. This is what is formally known as a Writ of Habeas Corpus Seeking Bail Reduction, but it is commonly referred to as a bond reduction hearing.
Bond reduction hearings often provide an excellent opportunity to discover information about the allegations. In a bond reduction hearing, the circumstances of the alleged offense is a relevant factor for the court to consider, which makes the investigating detective a relevant witness at the bond hearing. Having the opportunity to question the lead detective about his/her reasons for making an arrest helps develop defensive strategies for use before the grand jury or, if the charge is already indicted, before a trial jury (called a petit jury).
Courts don’t always reduce bail in serious cases alleging child sex crimes, but they often do. Judges can set conditions of bond, like an electronic leg monitor, drug testing, and restricting travel. Presenting to the court information about the accused and his/her ties to the community oftentimes results in a bond reduction with reasonable conditions.
From that point forward, the accused is referred to as “the Defendant.” This is an unfortunate moniker because it serves to dehumanize the citizen accused. Calling the citizen accused “the Defendant” chips away at the presumption of innocence. Any competent defense attorney will not refer to the client as “the Defendant.” Judges and juries need to be reminded that “the Defendant” is actually presumed innocent, and that he is more than the person charged with a terrible sounding crime.
I will discuss in another blog post the next steps in the process of an allegation of sexual crimes against children, specifically, the grand jury process and the court process. If you or a loved one is under investigation or indictment for a sexual offense against a child in McKinney, Plano, Dallas, Denton, Frisco, Ft. Worth, or Rockwall, please seek the advice and counsel of an attorney with experience and a track record of success, like criminal defense trial lawyer Keith Gore. All hope is not lost, but it takes an aggressive, comprehensive approach to achieve the best outcome possible outcome in sexual offense cases in Collin County and throughout the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.