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How Precise Does an Accuser Need to Be When Testifying About a Sex Crime?

Sex crimes, and in particular alleged offenses against children, tend to draw a strong reaction from prosecutors and the public at-large. We’ve seen many recent cases were accusers have stepped forward with sex crimes allegations years after the incidents allegedly occurred. Sometimes these accusers are not precise in their accounts or recollections of what transpired. Nevertheless, Texas judges tend to afford accusers great latitude when testifying–and if you ever find yourself the defendant in such a case, you need to be aware of this reality.

Court of Criminal Appeals: Reference to “Chest” Includes “Breast”

Consider the recent decision of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Arroyo v. State of Texas. A jury previously convicted the defendant on six counts of indecency with a child. Of particular importance to this appeal, three of those counts alleged the defendant touched a child’s “breast.”

There was a single accuser who testified at trial. She was 18 years old at the time of trial, but only 9 when the acts took place. The accuser testified that on the day of her grandfather’s funeral, the defendant “began twirling [her] hair and rubbing her neck” before engaging in further acts “of a sexual nature.” Specifically, the accuser said the defendant “started touching my chest, for he “started rubbing on my leg and he kept rubbing on my leg and then he went further up my skirt” and touched her vagina.

On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. An intermediate appeals court sided with the defendant with respect to the three counts alleging the defendant touched the accuser’s “breasts.” The appeals court explained under a 1974 decision by the Court of Criminal Appeals, Nelson v. State, the accuser’s use of the word “chest” could not automatically be assumed to mean “breast.” In Nelson, the Court of Criminal Appeals explained, “the definition of ‘chest’ is broader than the definition of ‘breast’ and includes a larger area of the body than that encompassed by the latter.”

But in the present case, the Court of Criminal Appeals said the facts were distinguishable enough from Nelson to justify reinstating the defendant’s conviction. Indeed, the Court noted the accuser gave a detailed description of the defendant’s actions beyond merely stating, “He rubbed my chest,” as the accuser did in Nelson. And given the accuser was only nine at the time of the defendant’s actions, the Court attributed her use of the word “chest” to the fact that is what a child would likely call her “undeveloped breast area.”

Contact a Houston Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

Words matter, especially when a defendant’s guilt or innocence is on the line. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney whenever you are accused of a sexual offense. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City at  (281) 280-0100 today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.