San Antonio, Texas, March 8, 2017: Today, Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Nico LaHood alongside Senators Carlos Uresti and Donna Campbell, and State Representative Barbara Gervin-Hawkins announced the filing of a bill that would give prosecutors across the state the added tools to prevent initial and continuous crimes committed against our children, seniors and disabled individuals. In October 2016, District Attorney LaHood formally announced the proposed legislation alongside County Judge Nelson Wolff, 225th District Court Judge Peter Sakai, state representatives, senators, local law enforcement officials and area children, senior and disabled individual’s advocacy groups.
“Over the past two years, cases have come across my desk that have brought pain to my heart as a father, son, and public servant,” said District Attorney LaHood. “These cases have emboldened my passion to protect our most vulnerable citizens."
The bill filed today targets the chronic serial abuser of the most vulnerable victims – children, elderly, and the disabled. Currently, there is a gap where prosecutors are unable to appropriately punish the most serious abusers of children, the elderly and the disabled. The bill fills the gaps and gives a judge or jury the opportunity to assess the appropriate punishment in some of the most horrific abuse cases prosecutors have.
DA LaHood is proposing four changes to the Penal Code that will address the following:
1. Long term abuse – this relates to multiple alleged incidents (over time or multiple victims). The punishment would now be a first degree felony (5-99 years or life), versus a third degree felony (2-10 years).
2. Long term abuse with serious injury – this relates to multiple injuries with serious bodily injury. This would enhance the punishment from first degree felony (5-99 years or life) to 15 years to life.
3. Prior conviction with new abuse allegations – this relates to a prior injury adjudication followed by a new abuse allegation. This would enhance this from a third degree offense to a first degree offense.
4. Child under 6 years old – this relates to Injury to a Child offense, without serious bodily injury. This would enhance the offense from a third degree to a first degree offense because of the victim’s age (under 6 years old).
Last year, Bexar County was rocked by the horrific abuse allegations involving two young children, ages 3 and 4, who were found chained up in the backyard of a northeast side home. This gave the DA’s Office reason to re-examine State laws on abuse and prosecutors identified a need to fill gaps in existing statutes. In this particular case, prosecutors were able to present new medical expert evidence to a Grand Jury and they in turn then upgraded the charges from 3rd degree felonies to 1st degree felonies.
“As our office seeks to reduce backlog in our criminal justice system and overcrowding in our prisons, it is important to remember we have a duty to hold the most violent and heinous criminal offenders accountable,” said DA LaHood. “This is especially true for those who target the most vulnerable, unable to defend themselves.”
The bill filed today will now be referred to a Senate or House committee. The bills are voted on in committee, then the entire membership of the Senate and House. If the bill passes votes in favor in both Senate and House Chambers, it is then placed on the Governor's desk to be signed into law.