Estes v. Texas (original by judge keasler)Annotate this Case
Russell Estes had an ongoing sexual relationship with K.A. when K.A. was fourteen years old. Estes was legally married to someone else. So, in addition to charging Estes with sexual assault of a child, ordinarily a second-degree felony, the State also alleged that K.A. was a person “whom the defendant was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the defendant was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married[.]”This additional fact, if proven true, would subject Estes to first-degree-felony punishment under Texas Penal Code Section 22.011(f). Estes was also charged with various counts of indecency with a child. Estes filed a pre-trial motion to quash the child-sex-assault counts within the indictment, in which he objected to what he called the “[b]igamy element of this allegation[.]”Specifically, Estes argued that Section 22.011(f) “is unconstitutional both facially and as applied to [him] because it treats married people more harshly than . . . unmarried people in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States and Texas Constitutions.” When this motion was denied, Estes asked for, and was granted, a running objection along these lines. As relevant here, Estes was ultimately found guilty of all five counts of sexual assault of a child. In a single special issue, the jury also found “that [K.A.] was a person whom [Estes] was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom [Estes] was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married,” thereby triggering the Section 22.011(f) enhancement. Within the first-degree-felony punishment range, Estes was sentenced to 12 years’ confinement on each count of sexual assault of a child. In enacting the current form of Penal Code Section 22.011(f), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the Texas Legislature apparently wished to provide higher penalties for polygamists “who sexually assault their purported spouses.” But the resulting statute had the potentially unintended effect of punishing married offenders more harshly than unmarried offenders. The Court determined the State had a rational interest in enforcing this scheme, and reversed the court of appeals’ holding that the statute was unconstitutional.