Recently we defended the interests of a Mexican national charged with the aggravated sexual assault of a child in Brazos County. The client was a 22 year old illegal alien who, at the age of 19, had impregnated a 12 year old girl also of Mexican descent. Once the girl gave birth, police authorities intervened, identified my client as the father, and began a prosecution for one of Texas’ most serious sexual offenses. As the investigation progressed, we quickly learned the client and alleged victim were in a romantic relationship. The client had approached the girl’s parents and asked permission to see her. The parents were also Mexican nationals who had come to the United States many years ago looking for a better life. Their cultural background based in rural Mexico influenced their world-view. They were happy to allow their 12 year old daughter to see my 19 year old client. These cultural issues were key to our courtroom success.
From my perspective (as a white American born male) the age difference between the client and his girlfriend seem too unreasonable. However, I started to research the cultural issues and norms in Mexico regarding dating and marriage as part of our pre-trial criminal defense preparation. Surprisingly, I found that in rural Mexico young men of my client’s age, and young girls hardly teenagers, regularly began to date and marry.
Clearly, my client’s world-view, and that of the girl, were shaped by Mexican cultural issues and influences. My client was not a sexual predator as the prosecutor tried to depict him. Rather, he was young man isolated by language barriers, economic barriers, and cultural barriers who fell for a young girl . . . not unlike relationships developing everyday in rural Mexico. We hired a cultural expert who helped the jury understand the motivation behind the client’s behavior. Although we were unsuccessful in persuading the jury to acquit on the sexual assault charge, we were successful in convincing them that probation was the appropriate punishment result. Rather than the 15 years hard time the prosecutor asked for, the client received 10 years probation.
I’d like to explore the issues of cultural defenses in more detail in later posts. Cultural influences shape the way individuals perceive reality and thus guide their decisions. Judges and juries must be educated in this regard by Bryan|College Station criminal defense attorneys to assure the American justice system works fairly and equitably when persons from different cultures allegedly commit crimes in the United States, and particularly Brazos County, Texas.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.