The Role of “Outcry Witnesses” in Texas Sex Crimes Prosecutions
February 21st, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Sex Crime
Hearsay statements are generally not admissible in criminal trials. Hearsay refers to any out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. For example, if a prosecutor wanted to prove that John committed murder, she could not have Luke testify that “Mark told me that John committed the murder.” Luke’s statement would be inadmissible hearsay.
But there are a number of exceptions to the ban against the admission of hearsay. One is particularly important in sex crimes cases involving children under the age of 14. Texas law permits the admission of statements made by such a child to an “outcry witness” about an alleged sexual assault. Now there are several conditions that must be satisfied for this exception to apply, including:
- The child’s statement must be made to the first adult “to whom the child … made a statement about the offense.”
- The statement must describe the “alleged offense.”
- The statement must be made against the defendant.
Before a jury can hear from an outcry witness, the judge must hold a separate hearing first to determine if the person actually meets the qualifications listed above.
Court Upholds 50-Year Sentence for Man Convicted of Abusing Daughter, Stepdaughter
To illustrate how courts deal with outcry witnesses, here is a recent decision from the Texas 13th District Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi, Morin v. State. Prosecutors charged the defendant in this case with sexually abusing both his biological daughter and his stepdaughter when they were under the age of 14. At trial, the prosecution designated an outcry witness, a forensic examiner who had interviewed the biological daughter.
The forensic examiner told the judge that the daughter “told her about several incidents” of sexual assault committed by the defendant, “starting when she was four or five years old and ending when she was six or seven.” The defense argued the examiner was not a proper outcry witness, as she was not “ “not of the type that would be a trusted adult to whom the child would normally tell the truth.” The judge disagreed and allowed the examiner to testify.
The jury subsequently convicted the defendant of three felony counts and sentenced him to 50 years in prison. On appeal, the defendant again challenged the designation of the outcry witness. He argued that not only was the forensic interviewer “not a trusted adult,” but that she was also not the “first person” the daughter made an outcry to, as required by law.
The 13th District rejected both arguments and upheld the defendant’s conviction. Regarding the “trusted adult” argument, the court explained that it was an issue regarding the credibility of the witness. And in this context, the judge’s role was limited to deciding whether or not there was a proper designation of an outcry witness–credibility was a matter for the jury to decide.
As for whether the child made her outcry to the forensic examiner first, the defendant pointed to a statement made by a detective at trial, that “the child told mom” about the defendant’s actions first. That would make the mom the proper outcry witness. But aside from the detective’s statement, the appeals court said there was no other evidence that the daughter had provided “a statement that in some discernible manner describes the alleged offense” to anyone other than the forensic examiner. The examiner was, therefore, the proper outcry witness.
Speak with a Houston, Galveston, and League City Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
The Texas legal system treats people accused of sex crimes against children quite harshly. That is why if you are on trial for such an offense, you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away. Call 281-280-0100.