In the majority of situations, the law will never accept hearsay as admissible evidence in a court case. However, there are some cases where the law permits such statements to protect the most vulnerable members of our community. If a child has suffered abuse, an outcry witness can issue a hearsay statement on the child’s behalf. Let’s go over the impact an outcry witness might have on your case.
What Is an Outcry Witness?
A child may “outcry” accounts of their abuse to an adult who wasn’t initially part of the investigative process. This adult can be a part of the child’s own family or an unrelated individual. This includes a teacher or social worker. If the situation warrants it, the court can also allow multiple outcry witnesses for one child. Multiple alleged offenses or multiple children involved with said offenses make this especially common. An outcry witness can also testify about suspected abuse on behalf of an individual who has a disability.
Under Article 38.072 of the Texas Criminal Code, the complainant’s (person accusing you) hearsay statements about the offense are admissible in court as long as they meet certain requirements. The “outcrier” must be under 14 or have a disability and be a victim of alleged sexual or assaultive crimes. The witness also needs to be the first person whom the outcrier told about the alleged crimes. Additionally, the outcrier’s account of events must have been relayed directly to the witness. They will only accept statements describing the alleged sexual or assaultive crimes as evidence.
Requirements to Testify as an Outcry Witness in Child Abuse Hearings
A statement made by an outcry witness will only be accepted in court if the witness is 18 years of age or older. Before the trial, the State must also give the defendant at least two weeks’ notice that an outcry witness will testify. This notice should include a written summary of the statement as well as the identity of the outcry witness. The child must also testify in court after confiding in the outcry witness.
The primary outcry witness must be able to confidently remember and reiterate what the child relayed to them before the jury. The witness is acting as a record keeper in this situation, describing exactly what the child said in approximate detail. If the primary witness is unable or unwilling to testify in court, that responsibility falls to the next adult to whom the outcrier described the incident.
How a Lawyer Can Protect You From Child Abuse Convictions
Texas Family Code § 261.001 defines child abuse as anything that could cause mental, emotional, or physical injury to the child. While signs of physical injury are typically more clear-cut, that’s not the case for emotional or mental abuse. As an example, you may have a child who reacts negatively to loud noises. They may flinch even when the sound is something as innocent as their parent raising their voice in a non-threatening tone or laughing. To a stranger, it may seem as if the child is going through emotional abuse. However, the child could simply have a medical condition that makes them more sensitive to these kinds of noises.
Because Texas law also criminalizes people who don’t report suspected child abuse, most adults will do so out of an abundance of caution. An experienced lawyer can help you compile evidence to prove that your child has never suffered abuse at your hands. This includes medical records and therapist reports. You can gather such documentation yourself. However, they may still convict you due to unfamiliarity with how the court system works. Key evidence being considered inadmissible is the last thing you want. Lawyers with prior experience regarding child abuse cases will be able to guide you through the entire process. They will clear your name completely or lessen your sentence significantly.
The defendant is entitled to a separate hearing. This is to investigate the content, circumstances, and time of the witness’s account. After reviewing the facts, a judge may determine that the outcry witness’s statement has no bearing on your case. These hearings are mandatory regardless of whether a defendant requests them. A lawyer will see to it that the hearing is conducted promptly.
Even if they allow the outcry witness’s statement in court, they still need to determine its actual credibility. The content of the statement may match the supposed events. However, there’s also the very real possibility that the outcry witness may hold a bias against the defendant. It’s a lawyer’s job to cross-examine the outcry witness and determine the merit of the provided statement. Lawyers will also cross-examine the child to confirm the outcry witness’s statement’s accuracy. They will rule out any possibility of coaching from an adult.
Accepting outcry witnesses can help convict those who are guilty of the alleged crimes. However, things don’t always go as planned. During Sanchez v. State, one outcry witness was present for the pre-trial hearing but didn’t attend the actual trial afterward. The court accepted the pre-trial statement in place of new testimony because the outcry witness had already been cross-examined at the pre-trial hearing. Even in the face of these hurdles, a lawyer can help you appeal the judge’s decision and preserve your right to confrontation.
Call Kent Starr for Aggressive Legal Representation in Plano
Being accused of sexual assault or abuse against children can tarnish your reputation and have other severe consequences. You may have to pay fines, serve time in jail, or have a mark as a sexual offender. Kent Starr and the rest of his legal team can save you from all of that heartache. A respected Plano attorney for several years with hundreds of cases won, he knows how to serve his clients to the fullest. If you need help navigating a child abuse or child molestation charge, call Kent Starr for a free consultation.