How Marital Status Can Enhance Texas Sexual Assault Penalties

A recent case reveals how Texas law employs harsher punishments for sexual assault in marriage.


How exactly does that work?


Here is the case in question:


A man received a sexual assault conviction for having sex with a minor girl who was his son’s friend. Because the man was married, the conviction was increased to a first-degree felony charge. The ruling was contested on the basis that the defendant should not have an enhanced charge simply because he was married.


The Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, however, determining the following:


“We express no opinion whether we agree with any legislative assumption that married people are more trustworthy around children than their unmarried counterparts. Regrettably, men like Estes make such a belief difficult to hold. But, paradoxically enough, Estes’s case also serves as a reminder that the public perception in this regard is all too real. We are simply unwilling, at least on this record, to discard as “irrational” the idea that marriage bestows upon its participants a certain aura of trustworthiness, specifically in regard to children. Nor do we think the Constitution precludes our Legislature from reserving, for deterrent purposes, a higher degree of punishment for those who would defile that trust by using it to sexually assault a child.”


This is a significant ruling. It changes the landscape of how sentences can be imposed based on the marriage factor. As the law is worded, it should not matter whether the defendant or the victim is married – increased charges could apply in either case, if the State so elects..


What is the real intent of the law?


Breaking Down Texas Sexual Assault Laws


In Texas, if an individual knowingly or intentionally causes sexual penetration without the other person’s consent, the act is punishable by law. The law includes any kind of sexual penetration with a child under the age of 17.


Acting without consent includes using force, threats, coercion, or violence. It also applies if the victim is physically or mentally unable to resist the assault, including being unconscious.


Administering a substance to the victim without the victim’s knowledge to impair consciousness is also unlawful.


Additional penalties may be given to defendants who are public servants, health service providers, clergy members, or employees of resident facilities.


What the Law Says Regarding Enhanced Punishments for Married Perpetrators or Victims


In regards to marriage, the Texas statute on sexual assault reads:


[Sexual assault] is a felony of the second degree, except that an offense under this section is a felony of the first degree if the victim was a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01 [“bigamy”].


So, there you have it. The law indicates that bigamists, or those who attempt to marry more than one person, should be penalized more heavily.


However, as mentioned above, a literal interpretation of the wording of the law means that anyone who commits sexual assault against a married person or is married when he or she commits sexual assault is subject to increased penalties.


The Penalties for Texas Sexual Assault and Why You Need to Fight Back


The Penalties for Texas Sexual Assault and Why You Need to Fight Back

A conviction for a second-degree felony charge will result in penalties of at least two years in prison with a maximum of 20 years in prison. If, however, marriage is involved and the charge is enhanced to a first degree felony, sentence exposure is at least five years with a maximum of 99 years.


That’s a big difference, and yet another reason to fight back against charges with an aggressive defense.


Have questions about your case? Schedule a free consultation with an experienced Texas sex crimes attorney. We’ll explain what options may be available to help you achieve the best outcome.