Surprising Sex Offenses in Texas: Sexting, Child Porn, Online Solicitation & Improper Student-Teacher Relationships
Houston sex crime defense lawyer Neal Davis shares a few surprising actions that can land you on a sex offender list in Texas
Thousands of honest Americans face unjust charges and punishments for sex offenses which injured no one. You may be interested in learning about some surprising sex offenses which can make a person a registered sex offender for life and even lead to prison time.
In Texas, such offenses can be found in Chapter 62 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It includes offenses for which a person can be put on a registered sex offender list. This varies depending on if the defendant was an adult or a juvenile.
Juvenile Sex Offenders Treated Differently
Indeed, parts of Texas’ sex crime law apply specifically to juveniles, who may be treated differently in court than adult sex offenders.
The chief difference is in application of sex offender registration. A judge has discretion in a juvenile case to defer sex offender registration, then wait and see how the juvenile behaves after rehabilitation. The idea is to give juveniles a chance to mend their ways early and not be saddled for life with sex offender status.
With an adult sex offender, however, no such leeway is granted by the law. Sex offender registration can be automatically applied regardless of the individual circumstances of a case.
Fortunately, all is not lost. An experienced defense attorney, such as Houston sex crime defense lawyer Neal Davis, can fight for defendants’ legal rights and work to get charges dismissed or reduced before nearing a punishment phase.
Sexting as a Criminal Offense
In today’s world, “sexting” has become a popular activity. Sexting is when adults and juveniles alike send sexually suggestive text messages, or nude or sexually explicit photos by text, instant messenger or email on a mobile device such as a cell phone or smartphone. Usually the person photographed consents to it or even takes their own photo. Often, sexting is directed to a person they know and it is meant to be private.
However, such sexual messages or photos may wind up on the Internet and be shared with others - often without consent of the original sender.
Studies reveal that nearly 40 percent of teenagers have engaged in sexting, as have around 80 percent of adults. That’s a lot of alleged “criminals,” especially in Texas, where sexting - particularly when a minor is involved - can be deemed a first-degree felony.
Under Texas law, the offense of possession or promotion of child pornography occurs if a person deliberately or knowingly promoted, or possessed with intent to promote, material depicting a child (under 17) in sexual conduct, while knowing it was a child. That offense is a third-degree felony but can be boosted to a second- or even first-degree felony. This can apply to sexting.
In sexting cases, one problem for prosecutors is that when applying Texas’ law on possession or promotion of child pornography, the persons who sent nude photos of themselves to a friend must be held as guilty as those who shared such photos without permission.
Prosecutors must prosecute not only the latter, but also the original person in the photo - or prosecute no one.
But Texas also has a fairly new sexting law. Written in 2011, it provides a defense to prosecution if the person possessing the material destroys it. Also, Texas’ sexting law applies only to persons under 18.
With this law, a minor found to be sexting need not be charged with child porn distribution but rather a misdemeanor offense, and they can be required to attend an educational class with a parent.
Minors also can have their records expunged upon turning 18 if they meet the court’s requirements, and for a first offense, they won’t be required to register as a sex offender.
The sexting law was written to avoid minors’ convictions for sexting under Texas’ possession or promotion of child pornography law. That law would require minors to register as a sex offender for 10 years past the end of a sentence.
Even so, the common modern behaviour of sexting can make many thousands of people, both young and old, guilty of being “sex offenders” under the law.
Life in Prison for Child Porn?
You may be asking: Can a person spend life in prison for a child porn offense?
The answer is yes, but not for a first offense.
Under federal child porn laws, a person with a prior conviction of possession of child porn with intent to promote can be sentenced to between 40 years and life in prison.
Texas law makes possession of child pornography a third-degree felony with punishment of 2 to 10 years in prison. Possession of child porn with intent to promote (sell, exhibit, share) is a second-degree felony with punishment of 2 to 20 years in prison.
A child porn conviction in Texas can also mean the defendant must register as a sex offender for life.
Undercover Police Stings
Many sex offenses in Texas are recorded by undercover police stings, in which officers pretend to be minors and entice people into sex crimes. Online solicitation is a serious offense when the person at the other end is believed to be a minor, even though that person may be a police officer.
Indeed, online solicitation of a minor is a serious Texas and federal sex offense. Federal punishments range from 10 years to life in prison. In Texas, the offense is a second-degree felony with punishments of up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
However, in police sting operations, rules of “entrapment” can protect defendants. For instance, a policeman posing online as a 13-year-old girl cannot initiate sexually-related discourse or propose engaging in sexual activity, nor can officers improperly induce someone to commit online solicitation of a minor.
Improper Teacher-Student Relationships
Another harsh Texas law concerns improper teacher-student relationships. Under Texas Penal Code 21.12, an inappropriate relationship between an educator and a student is a criminal offense - even if the student is in high school at age 18 and thus not a minor. In fact, the student doesn’t even have to be in the educator’s class.
A teacher or other school employee who has sexual relations with a student from the same school or school district can face criminal charges with punishments of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 - even if the student is 18. Surprising, but true.
Defenses for Sex Offenses
Houston sex crime defense attorney Neal Davis, along with his skilled team of legal experts at The Neal Davis Law Firm, can help persons charged with child porn possession or other sex offenses in Harris County, Montgomery County or Fort Bend County.
One defense is establishing that the defendant was misled or unaware of specific facts, or was subject to entrapment, by which he or she was encouraged to commit an offense. An adult receiving nude photos from a minor may have been misled to believe the minor was 18 or older, and had no way to know their actual age.
A defense attorney also may argue that a defendant was unaware of explicit materials on his or her computer - materials which could have been placed there by someone else - and had no intention of distributing such materials.
With improper teacher-student relationships, a defense can be that the relationship began prior to the teacher’s employment, or the age gap between teacher and student was under three years.
In short, sex offense charges and punishments can be surprisingly harsh. But skilled defense attorneys such as Houston criminal defense lawyer Neal Davis can help turn the tide. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation, or continue browsing our site and read our client testimonials.