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New Sexual Assault Witness Amnesty Law in Texas

Published: Sep 25, 2017 in Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

Sexual assault is a serious problem in Texas, and the state’s legislators are working hard to put laws into place that would encourage people to report these crimes when they occur. One such effort is a sexual assault witness amnesty law that would protect anyone who reports sexual assault from prosecution for underage drinking. This new law has gained approval by both the Texas House and Senate, and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Abbott.

Why Do Sexual Assault Witnesses Need Amnesty?

Many sexual assaults occur on college campuses or involve underage individuals. When the incident occurs at a party, witnesses under the age of 21 are often afraid to come forward out of fear of getting charged with underage drinking. The new Texas sexual assault witness amnesty law aims to alleviate these fears, and thus give prosecutors a better chance of getting the witnesses they need to prove their cases.

Texas senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) authored the amnesty law, officially known as Senate Bill 969. He also authored Senate Bill 968, which will enable college students and employees to anonymously and electronically report sexual assaults. Senate Bill 966 will amend the state’s alcohol code to specifically prohibit the prosecution of underage drinking for any witnesses who report sexual assault to a law enforcement officer or university community coordinator.

Under Texas law, underage drinking is a Class C misdemeanor. If you get convicted of buying, possessing, or consuming alcohol under the age of 21, you may get up to a $500 fine, eight to 40 hours of community service, in addition to taking required alcohol education classes. In addition, your driver’s license may get suspended for anywhere between 30 and 180 days.

Are these Bills a Reaction to the Baylor Football Team Scandal?

Federal prosecutors have evidence that over thirty Baylor football team members committed 52 acts of rape between 2011 and 2014. The numbers are shocking, as are the university’s efforts to downplay the problem by initially disclosing only a fraction of the rapes to the authorities. Senator Watson has stated that the Baylor scandal “highlighted a very serious problem in our state.”

Central to the fight against sexual assault is an effort to change campus cultures, which often encourage bad behavior while simultaneously stigmatizing so-called “snitches.” According to Senator Watson, “one of the ways to change the culture on college campuses is to empower the survivors of sexual assault and to make it easier for victims to be able to report.”

Giving sex crimes witnesses the ability to anonymously report what they see and to avoid prosecution for underage drinking may overturn the code of silence on Texas campuses. But it remains to be seen whether a potential increase in sexual assault reports will increase the number of prosecutions or the conviction rate for campus sex crimes.

Will the Amnesty Law Increase Sexual Assault Convictions?

Witness testimony from drunken parties is notoriously unreliable, and the weight of an anonymous report may not be sufficient to move a jury to convict. A good Texas criminal defense lawyer will be able to show how such patchy evidence falls short of proving the suspect’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Thus, the new laws may not significantly affect the number or rape convictions in the state. But the law will vastly increase the amount of disciplinary actions from universities whose procedures generally do not require the proof of the student’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Whether you’re a college student or a middle-aged member of the workforce, a sexual assault conviction can ruin your life. From fines, to prison time, to a permanent criminal record, you may not be able to move on from a rape conviction. The successful defense of these cases requires prompt and decisive action by an experienced legal professional.

If you’ve been charged with sexual assault, call a sexual assault lawyer at The Law Offices of Ned Barnett today at (713) 222-6767 for a free and confidential consultation.