Do you face a sex crime charge in Texas against a minor? If so, you may wondering if not knowing a person’s age is a valid defense when a sex partner is below the age of consent.
The short answer is no.
Continue reading for a more detailed answer.
Texas Sex Assault Laws
Even in a case of consensual or unforced sex, one person’s age can make a world of difference under Texas law, which takes strong measures to protect children.
By Texas law, the legal age of consent is 17, which means a minor who is 16 or younger is not deemed wise enough to make a decision to have sex. So if you have sex with a person under 17—and you aren’t married to them—then you could be charged with sexual assault, which is a second degree felony, even if the sex was mutual.
Penalties for Sexual Assault Against a Minor
So what’s the punishment?
You’re looking at 2-20 years in prison.
One exception is when the older partner is no more than three years older than the partner who’s under 17. In such cases, a Texas law referred to as a “Romeo and Juliet” law often would lead to a charge being dropped—but only if the younger partner is 15 or older.
If the younger partner is age 14 or younger, the older partner could face a charge of aggravated sexual assault. That’s a first degree felony with punishment of 5-99 years in prison, and with parole not possible until at least half the sentence is served.
Lack of Knowledge About a Partner’s Age Isn’t a Viable Defense
But what if you didn’t know the person was under 17?
Tough luck, according to Texas officials.
Since age can be a vital factor in Texas sex crime cases, it’s important to understand that not knowing the age of a sex partner is not considered a valid legal defense against a sex crime charge. Even if a minor lied about their age, an adult could be charged with sexual assault for having sex—even consensual sex—with someone under 17.
Fleming vs. State of Texas
In the recent case of Fleming vs. State of Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that not knowing a sex partner’s age wasn’t a legal defense under Texas law.
According to the court, “strict liability regarding the age of the minor furthers the legitimate government interest in protecting children from sexual abuse by placing the risk of mistake on the adult actor.”
In other words, failure to ensure that a sex partner is at least 17 years old isn’t considered a valid legal defense against a sexual assault charge based on age. The burden of determining a sex partner’s age is placed on the adult, who cannot claim ignorance of the person’s age as a legal defense—even if a minor lied about their age.
Other Defenses Against Sex Assault
Even so, other legal defenses against Texas sex crimes are available, depending on the circumstances of the case. Contact an experienced Houston sex crime defense lawyer at the Neal Davis Law Firm for help with your case in Harris County, Fort Bend County or Montgomery County.
We will quickly provide you with a free and confidential legal review of your case. Then, you can learn if you have other legal defenses against a sex crime charge. For instance, you may have been falsely accused of having sex with a child.
Contact us today and let us help.