Have You Been Accused of Failure to Report Sex Abuse?
If you have been charged with failing to report sexual abuse of a child in the state of Texas, you may have many questions.
Whereas both offenses are potentially serious, it is important to understand why you are facing charges of failing to report child abuse and the best way to do so is with the help of an experienced Collin County defense lawyer.
Failure to Report Child Sex Abuse – Defined
Under the penal code in Texas, there are numerous types of offenses a person can commit against a child, all of which carry serious penalties that include jail time and a fine, or both. In Texas, a person can also commit an offense against a child by doing nothing – if a person has “reasonable cause” to believe the sexual abuse of a child occurred and they knowingly fail to report the abuse, they may be charged with this offense.
Under certain circumstances, the offense is enhanced to a more serious State Jail Felony. The law also defines who is required to report, how to report, and the appropriate length of time within which a person must make their report.
Who is Required to Report Child Sex Abuse in Texas? How Should Suspected Abuse be Reported?
Chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code defines “who” must report as 1) a person with reasonable cause OR 2) a “professional” – both having suspected that the sexual abuse of a child occurred. In addition, the statute distinguishes levels of responsibility, as well as levels of punishment, associated with the requirement to report the suspected child abuse to law enforcement.
The Texas Family Code § 261.101, “Persons Required to Report” defines two types of persons required to report, as well as when they must do so.
- A person having reasonable cause to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report as provided by this subchapter.
- If a professional has reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected or may be abused or neglected, or that a child is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code, and the professional has reasonable cause to believe that the child has been abused as defined by Section 261.001, the professional shall make a report not later than the 48th hour after the hour the professional first has reasonable cause to believe that the child has been or may be abused or neglected or is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code. A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make the report.
“Professionals” are further defined in a related subsection as teachers, nurses, doctors, or other individuals who are licensed or certified by the state to perform duties that bring them in direct contact with children as a result.
Apart from professionals, other individuals within a child’s care, custody, welfare, or close contact who may likely be able to identify possible child sex abuse, include some of the following:
- a parent, guardian, or foster parent
- a member of the child’s family or household
- a person cohabiting with the child’s parent
- a school personnel or volunteer at the child’s school
Quite simply, a person is required to make a report with law enforcement, even if they believe the sex abuse of a child reasonably occurred, and, if that person knowingly fails to make a report, they are subject to criminal punishment. In Texas, a “report” means a report that alleged or suspected abuse of a child “has occurred or may occur.” Although the term is vague regarding the contents of the report, Sect. 261.104. requires a person to identify names and addresses for the child and the person responsible for that child’s care or welfare, and “any other pertinent information” known about the suspected abuse. Also, a person who identifies possible child abuse – physical, sexual, or emotional – is required to make a report with an appropriate agency, such as with local or state law enforcement or the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) or any local law enforcement agency.
What are the Consequences for Failing to Report Child Sex Abuse?
A person who is required by law to report sex abuse and fails to do so “immediately” may face serious possible consequences. The offense for failing to report child abuse is a Class A misdemeanor, which, if convicted, includes up to 365 days in county jail, a fine up to $4,000, or both. The consequences are more severe, on the other hand, for a professional charged with this offense (required to report) if they knowingly failed to make a report, and it is shown that they intentionally concealed the abuse. Under those circumstances, a person convicted faces a state jail felony, with penalties that include a possible prison sentence between 180 days – 2 years in state jail and a fine up to $10,000.
Should I Retain Experienced Legal Defense?
To convict you for a failure to report child abuse, the prosecutor will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had knowledge of the abuse and chose not to report it. The best chance you will have to prove your innocence is to retain skilled team of Collin County criminal lawyers who are experienced defending individuals falsely accused of complex offenses, especially those involving children.
For over 20 years, Heather Barbieri has built a reputation as an award-winning trial lawyer based in Plano, specializing in all types of sex crime crimes, and zealously advocating for those wrongly accused.
You don’t have to fight your charges alone. Our dedicated sex offense lawyers at Barbieri Law Firm will stand by your side, fighting aggressively for you and your rights throughout the legal process.
Share your story with a Collin County sex crime lawyer who can help by contacting our office immediately.