The commonly phrased crime of child molestation is titled Indecency with a Child in Texas. There are two types of indecency: Indecency with a Child by Contact and Indecency with a Child by Exposure (similar to Indecent Exposure but a child is present). Both are serious felonies. Both require registration as a sex offender upon conviction.
Indecency with a Child by Contact is the more serious offense. The Texas statute does not distinguish between touching under the clothes or touching over clothes – any sexual contact is punished as a second degree felony. A person commits the offense of Indecency with a Child by Contact if:
With a child younger than 17 years and not the person's spouse, whether the child is of the same or opposite sex, the person engages in sexual contact with the child or causes the child to engage in sexual contact.
Sexual contact means the following acts, if committed with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person:
(1) any touching by a person, including touching through clothing, of the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of a child; or
(2) any touching of any part of the body of a child, including touching through clothing, with the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of a person.
Indecency with a Child by Exposure is a third degree felony. A person commits the offense if with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person he:
(A) exposes the person's anus or any part of the person's genitals, knowing the child is present; or
(B) causes the child to expose the child's anus or any part of the child's genitals.
The two crimes are often charged in conjunction as separate paragraphs of an indictment. Double jeopardy concerns are raised when the same act is used to prosecute a person for two different crimes. In a prosecution alleging Aggravated Sexual Assault, the acts constituting the assault may also constitute separate crimes of Indecency with a Child by Contact and Indecency with a Child by Exposure. In a prosecution for Indecency with a Child by Contact involving a child touching the genitals of an adult, the crime of Indecency by Exposure would logically also have to have been committed.
Why do these details matter?
Because the rules of evidence concerning extraneous offenses, double jeopardy, the right to election, and jury unanimity are incredibly important protections for innocent people falsely accused of child sex abuse. A three count indictment is more powerful psychologically than a single allegation. Even if all three counts reference the same incident, the news media, the general public, and potential jurors are given a false impression that there was more than one incident. Second, it bolsters prosecution based upon fear rather than proof. Since most people belief “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” a juror may still convict an innocent person of a lesser charge because while they don’t believe the accused committed the most serious act alleged, he is probably guilty of something. Alleging indecency with a child by contact and indecency with a child by exposure provide two other bites at the apple. Finally, the fundamental nature of the criminal justice system is that the greater offense subsumes the lesser. If a person is accused of murder, the State does not also try to indict him for assault and aggravated assault en route to the completed homicide. When the appellate courts allow the trial courts to aggrandize the number of offenses, it creates inconsistencies in the system.
The fundamental principle of the Constitution is that it shouldn’t matter what you’re charged with – you have the right to a fair trial. Because of political popularity of getting tough on sex offenses, the centuries of due process and presumption of innocence is being sacrificed for cheap political gain. While this damages the credibility of our justice system in general, it is most harmful to innocent people who are falsely accused. Now that the legislature and appellate courts have rewritten the rules to make it easier to convict a group of people charged with a heinous act, pray that you are never wrongfully accused of a sex crime in Texas.