Will Texas “Excuse” Underage Drinking Involving Sexual Assault Victims?

There is no disputing that underage drinking, especially on college campuses, is a major problem in Texas. Underage drinking is often linked to sexual assaults involving students. In many cases, assault victims are afraid to come forward because they fear getting in trouble, either with their school or law enforcement, if they admit to illegally drinking at a party just before their attack.

Senate Bill Would Protect Accusers & Witnesses

Recently, the Texas Senate passed a bill designed to address such situations. SB 966 is part of a package of legislation sponsored by state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin that is intended to help victims of sexual assault. Current Texas law states a person under the age of 21 commits a misdemeanor if he or she consumes alcohol. SB 966 would exempt from prosecution any minor “who reports the sexual assault of a minor or another person, or is the victim of a sexual assault reported by another person.” The “report” must be made to a law enforcement officer, a health care provider who treats the victim, or a college or university official responsible for enforcing Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education.

SB 966 would also allow a minor charged with underage drinking to “raise the defense” they were a victim of sexual assault, or reported such an assault, at the time they were arrested.

Another bill proposed by Watson would similarly exempt sexual assault victims and witnesses from punishment under college and university student conduct codes for underage drinking. Both bills were passed by the Senate and now await action in the Texas House of Representatives.

Is Your Child In Trouble for Underage Drinking?

According to Watson’s statement about SB 966 before the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, the “overall rates of reporting” sexual assault is low, “ranging from 5 percent to 28 percent,” according to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities. Watson said removing potential criminal sanctions for victims and witnesses would encourage more reporting, especially since “recent scandals suggest parties with underage drinking are a typical setting where people commit sexual assault against young people.”

It remains to be seen if SB 966 will become law, and if it does, how it will actually impact reporting. As the law currently stands, a minor still faces potential legal consequences if they admit to underage drinking even if they were a party or witness to another crime. If your child is facing a legal conundrum over whether to approach law enforcement, it is important they speak with a qualified Galveston criminal defense lawyer who will look out for their best interests. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with an attorney right away. 

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