Sex crimes are some of the most serious offenses in Texas. The risks to your reputation and freedom are huge as most sex crimes carry a realistic possibility of prison time and sex offender registration. The more serious a case gets, the more important it becomes to choose the best attorneys to help defend your case. But what should you look for in a sex crimes attorney?
In Texas, almost all sex crimes are felonies. The most serious include online solicitation, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault of a child, possession of child pornography, indecency with a child and continuous sexual abuse. These offenses carry the possibility of prison time and lifetime sex offender registration (with the exception of online solicitation and indecency by exposure, which carry 10-year sex offender registration requirements).
In the Houston area, many District Attorneys’ offices will only offer pleas that involve prison time to anyone charged with a serious sex offense. This means that the stakes in a case involving a sexual offense are extremely high. It also means that many cases involving a sexual offense will result in a trial, as a defendant will have less incentive to accept a plea agreement if the only offer is prison time.
As a result, the most important thing that you should look for when hiring a sex crime defense attorney is trial experience with sex cases. Unfortunately, many criminal defense attorneys are not trial attorneys. This means that although they may accept serious cases, they are not willing to go to trial and often pressure their clients to accept a plea agreement, even when that is not in their best interest.
Trials in sex crimes cases involve high stakes and high pressure. For example, if a defendant is charged with Continuous Sexual Abuse, he could be facing a prison sentence of 25-99 years in prison if he is convicted. Additionally, some sex offenses involve special rules of evidence that permit the jury to hear evidence that it would not normally hear in a criminal case (like evidence of other acts of sexual misconduct allegedly committed by the defendant or testimony from the first person a child made an alleged disclosure of sexual abuse to).
Of course, a sex crimes attorney should be familiar with the rules of evidence and the unique rules that apply to sexual abuse cases. But beyond that, an attorney should understand how to build and present a winning defense. This begins with a thorough investigation of the accusation. In a case alleging sexual abuse of a child, for example, a defense attorney should interview anyone with information relevant to the accusation or character of the alleged victim. A defense attorney should also obtain and thoroughly review all school, CPS, medical and therapy records for inconsistencies, possible reasons to fabricate an accusation and a tendency to lie or imagine things.
An experienced sexual assault attorney will regularly work with investigators and experts of all kinds, including DNA experts, psychiatrists, toxicologists, computer forensic experts and medical experts. An experienced sexual assault attorney will be well-acquainted with appropriate experts for every issue and will be able to put together the best possible team to defend a particular case.
Of course, not every sex case will go to trial. But by thoroughly preparing for a trial, an attorney will be fully prepared for any outcome and be able to make an informed decision as to the best way to resolve a case.
Beyond trial experience, it is a good idea to consider what percentage of an attorney’s practice is devoted to criminal defense and to the defense of sex cases in particular. The reality is that many attorneys are willing to handle virtually any legal issue. Because the law is very complex, handling matters in a variety of legal fields means that an attorney will not attain mastery at any one field.
Next, it is important to consider whether a particular lawyer has experience in a particular court or county. It can be invaluable to be familiar with prosecutors, judges, court staff and even the makeup of the local community. Although some lawyers – like civil attorneys – handle matters throughout the State or even country, sex crimes attorneys are typically much more localized. After knowing the charge, a defendant is facing, the next question many sex crimes attorneys will want to know is the court the case is assigned to, as a strategy – and expectation – may have to be adjusted depending on the venue.
It can also be worthwhile to spend some time researching an attorney’s reviews to get a general sense of a lawyer’s reputation. There are a variety of websites online that contain reviews for attorneys, such as Google. Although internet reviews can be faked, fake reviews are typically easy to spot and multiple bad reviews might be a reason for concern.
Finally, it is very important to hire a sex crimes attorney with effective communication skills. As a person charged with a sex offense, you have the right to an attorney who is patient, available and is willing to take the time to truly guide you through the case. In a sex case, your attorney will not only investigate the case, the attorney will let you know what to expect in court and help you understand the evidence and your options to resolve the case. Your attorney must be a person who you are completely comfortable confiding in as open communication is necessary to building an effective defense of a sex crime.
In short, it is a good idea to take your time when hiring a sex crimes attorney, as effective representation is critical for a good result. Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has tried over 50 jury trials and has obtained outstanding results for clients charged with sex offenses throughout the Greater Houston area. Attorney Abigail Anastasio is a former prosecutor and Harris County District Court judge who has handled hundreds of sex cases in her career and has a unique perspective on the representation of client charged with sex offenses due to her broad experience in the criminal justice system. Ceja Law Firm is dedicated to providing thorough, aggressive and personalized representation to clients charged with sex offenses. If you are under investigation or have been charged with any sexual offense in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today.