Texas criminal law has developed in a way that seek clarity and justice in protecting the rights of victims of sexual assault. Those accused of sexual assault may also face a stigma because of the type of allegations, and sexual assault cases often come down to he-said-she-said credibility issues that make it essential for jurors to both understand the law of consent and accurately evaluate the credibility of witnesses. A recent judicial opinion from Texas demonstrates the challenges faced by both the prosecution and defense in navigating the legal intricacies surrounding witness testimony and the interpretation of consent.
According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the recent case in question involved an individual who was convicted of attempted sexual assault, a third-degree felony. However, the trial court’s jury instructions became a focal point of contention on appeal, as it allowed the jury to consider a broader range of actions than originally alleged in the indictment. The charge included a lesser-included offense for attempted sexual assault with an application paragraph that expanded the means of penetration to “by any means,” contrary to the indictment’s specific mention of using the sexual organ.
Upon appeal, the court of appeals found that an error was made in the charge and that the charge error was not harmless and led to egregious harm, resulting in a reversal of the conviction. The dissenting opinion argued that the error was harmless, emphasizing the unlikely scenario in which the jury would engage in convoluted mental gymnastics to reach a verdict.