Cases of sexual assault and abuse, especially those involving children, hinge greatly on the perceived credibility of the victim and other witnesses. Because children are often coached into making statements to law enforcement and medical professionals that may incriminate a defendant, the credibility of alleged child victims, as well as their complaining family members, is often an important issue in sex abuse cases. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeal recently addressed a lower court’s ruling that had reversed a sexual assault conviction against a church organist, who allegedly sexually assaulted a small boy who he was entrusted to care for.
The defendant in the recently decided case was a member and organist at a church that was attended by the alleged victim and his family. After the child’s mother witnessed the boy performing a sexual act on a sibling and asked where he learned such a thing, she claimed her son told her that he was forced to perform sexual acts on the defendant several times in the past. After a police investigation and extensive interviews were completed, the defendant was arrested and charged with sexual abuse of a child.
As the case progressed toward a trial, the alleged victim’s family was divided into two camps. The victim’s mother and maternal grandmother believed the victim. Other family members, including the victim’s great-grandmother, who was highly regarded in the church, as well as cousins and other relatives, claimed that the victim’s mother manufactured the story and was a compulsive liar. Because of this division, the trial focused primarily on the credibility of the victim and his mother around the time the abuse was reported. During the trial, the prosecutor asked a police officer if he believed that the victim was lying when he was interviewed, and the officer responded no.
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison for the charges; however, his attorneys appealed the ruling, arguing that the police officer should not have opined on the victim’s credibility, as that is solely in the purview of the jury. The intermediate appellate court reversed the defendant’s conviction, resulting in the state’s appeal to the high appellate court, and the instant decision. The high court reversed the intermediate court’s ruling and upheld the defendant’s conviction. The court found that any error in admitting the officer’s credibility determination to the jury was harmless, as most of the testimony at trial was about this very issue, and the officer’s one-word answer to a credibility question could not reasonably have influenced the jury’s decision. As a result of the recent ruling, the case will be returned to the intermediate appellate court to address the defendant’s other grounds for appeal that had not yet been addressed.
The Importance of Credibility in Addressing Sexual Assault Allegations
Sexual abuse and Assault have become serious issues in Texas and nationwide, and law enforcement is doing what it can to successfully prosecute offenders when possible. Not all allegations are based on the truth. Sometimes, family disputes, mental illness, or other factors lead alleged victims or their families to manufacture, distort, or embellish evidence to encourage the filing of charges against an innocent person. If you have been accused of sexual assault or abuse, sometimes the truth won’t be enough to beat the allegations against you.
Police, prosecutors, judges, and juries may have an implicit bias against anyone accused of a sexual offense. Although Americans are entitled to be seen as innocent until proven guilty, it doesn’t always work this way with sex crimes. Because of this, it is essential for anyone accused of a sexual crime to retain a skilled Texas criminal defense attorney to help them set the record straight. The experienced criminal defense attorneys with Guest and Gray can help. Our dedicated Texas criminal defense lawyers understand the importance of credibility, and we can get your story out in front, to prevent distortions from prosecutors and law enforcement. If you’ve been accused of a crime, give us a call to talk about your situation Contact our offices at 972-564-4644 and schedule a free consultation today.