In Texas, the statistics on child abuse and neglect tell a chilling tale. Data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services showed that two children die weekly, on average, from neglect or abuse. Most victims were female. In 2014, there were 66,572 confirmed cases out of nearly 275,000 reported.
Another statistic is also alarming in this data. Most of the people who reported these cases were not members of the immediate family. Most were either school, medical or law enforcement professionals. Only 8.1 % of those reporting abuse or neglect were parents. The well-meaning professionals who reported these cases were doing their due diligence under Texas law, which requires that they report signs of abuse or neglect when warranted. However, they often don't have the full story or they make assumptions, as the number of confirmed cases vs the number of reported cases suggests. These assumptions can lead to false reports of abuse that did not actually occur or allegations against the wrong perpetrator of the abuse. Being falsely accused of child abuse can lead to serious consequences for you and your family.
Immediately find a criminal defense lawyer in Texas
If you are accused of child abuse, it is imperative to contact legal representation immediately. While your first impulse may be to fully cooperate – you have nothing to hide, after all – you are best served by remaining quiet until an experienced defense attorney tells you it is okay to speak. This is the first step in your defense against a false accusation of child abuse.
The Texas Family Code codifies various actions as constituting child abuse and can affect you in a civil or family law case in lieu of, or in addition to, criminal charges. Abuse is not simply causing a child physical harm and certainly does not only involve sexual contact. Forms of child abuse under Texas law ranges from inflicting intentional emotional injury to allowing a child to use a controlled substance. The Texas Penal Code identifies criminal offenses which may include physical or sexual abuse.
Take these actions to defend against false child abuse allegations
- It is not in your best interest to accept a plea bargain if you are innocent of the allegations. The guilty plea may carry with it the usual loss of rights a felon experiences. Additionally, those found guilty of child sexual abuse will have to register as a sex offender, and the resulting complications will affect your ability to find employment, rent an apartment and have a normal life.
- A conviction for causing injury to a child could also lead to a challenge for custody of your own child. You may face a custody battle or a request to remove or supervise your visitation time with your children. If you are accused of injuring your child you may also find yourself embroiled with the Department of Family and Protective Services (CPS).
- You should mount an aggressive defense as early as possible in the case. Sometimes there are steps that can be taken to prevent the case from going to trial—including the possibility of stopping the case at the grand jury stage. You can present character evidence, relevant witness statements or take and provide the results of a lie detector test. Although polygraph results are inadmissible in court as evidence, they are often useful as part of a grand jury packet that can be prepared to attempt to avoid indictment. If you do not get legal counsel early, you may miss this golden opportunity.
- Expert witnesses are often called in by the prosecutor. This may range from a medical expert to discuss the nature of physical injuries to mental health professionals to discuss the emotional state of the alleged victim. In Texas, the courts allow the introduction of Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS) by expert witnesses in a child abuse trial. CSAAS is a series of behaviors common to victims of abuse. The expert may not testify to the veracity of the alleged victim's testimony. However, the expert may show that the child has exhibited CSAAS behaviors in an attempt to bolster a witness's credibility. This is often accomplished by attempting to show the witness's behaviors are consistent with having been abused. This alone can be damning against you in a jury trial. An excellent lawyer can help identify and prepare witnesses for the defense to show the jury that the courts find CSAAS limited in usefulness to prove a case of abuse.
- “Outcry Witness” testimony is admissible hearsay evidence used in abuse cases involving children under 14-years old. An alleged victim may tell a third-party about their abuse, and the third-party is allowed to testify to this. Ordinarily, this kind of evidence would be inadmissible hearsay. The attorney can attempt to keep this testimony out and if that is unsuccessful can work to mitigate the impact of such testimony.
- Expose the lack of physical evidence. Often if you are falsely accused, the prosecution will lack DNA samples, hair and other relevant physical evidence to prove their case. They will rely on expert testimony to show an injury or behavior is consistent with abuse or an uncorroborated statement of a young child. The defense must show how unreliable this evidence is.
The falsely accused in child abuse cases stand to lose a great deal. You face a long jail term and a ruined reputation. If you are an immigrant you may also face deportation or loss of citizenship. The only way to escape unsullied is to contact a criminal defense attorney experienced in defending child abuse or neglect cases. Your life may even depend on it.