Have you been charged with inappropriate sexual misconduct with a student?
Are you under investigation for an alleged improper teacher-student relationship?
Have your or a loved one already been arrested?
Not only is your job at stake, but your freedom and reputation are on the line too considering the ferocity with which the media and courts pursue these types of sex offense cases.
Sex crime defense attorney Neal Davis defends school employees in Harris County, Montgomery County, Fort Bend County and throughout Texas.
If you or a loved one are being investigated or have been charged with in improper relationship with a student, it is imperative you seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At the Neal Davis Law Firm, our Houston sex crime lawyers will listen to your story and evaluate the facts in your case to determine the best possible defense strategy.
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Statistics on inappropriate teacher / student relationships
Sex crimes involving improper relationships between educators and students have recently been called an “epidemic” in Texas, which some experts attribute to the rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and text messaging that permits extended communication between teachers and students outside of a classroom setting.
One survey found that Texas had more cases improper teacher-student relationships reported by the media than any other state in the nation. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports that allegations of improper teacher-student relationships are on the rise – with 188 cases investigated in 2015 alone.
In 2016, the TEA launched 222 investigations of teachers having inappropriate relationships with students, hitting an 8-year high and an increase of 42 percent over the last five years. Around 60 teachers in the Houston area’s biggest school districts lost their teaching license due to impropriety with a student.
While it is clear that students must be better protected in the American school system from adult misconduct, it is also true that teachers and school employees must be protected from false allegations and publicized investigations that can cripple a person’s career and lead to unjust punishments.
Texas penal code laws & penalties against improper relationships between educators & students
Texas has some of the toughest improper relationship laws in the nation. Most states prosecute educators who have engaged in inappropriate sexual relations with a student under their statutory rape laws. However, in 2003, Texas enacted a specific improper relationship statute regarding teachers and all students (even students over the age of 17), making it a felony offense. This law was expanded in 2011 to include not only students who attend the teacher’s school, but also students who are enrolled at any school in the educator’s district.
Unless there’s real strong evidence of a teacher trading sex for grades or using improper influence, then it’s a statute that is really open to abuse,” says Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin.(Source)
Sec. 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code states that any employee of a public or private elementary, middle or high school commits a sex crime if they engage in “sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse” with:
- a person who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school at which the employee works;
- a person who is enrolled in a public primary or secondary school in the same school district as the school at which the employee works; or
- a student participant in an educational activity that is sponsored by a school district or a public or private primary or secondary school.
It’s worth mentioning that Texas law on improper relationships applies applies not only to teachers, but all school district employees – including janitors, coaches, principals, counselors and superintendents.
Also, Texas improper relationship law applies at all times (not just during school hours), anywhere in Texas (not just on campus or school property) and regardless of the student’s age or consent. That means even if the student is 18 years old and the sex is consensual, the teacher can still be charged with a felony if they are employed at the same primary school, secondary school or district as the student.
A criminal offense under this section of law is a second-degree felony in the state of Texas, meaning those convicted can be sentenced to 2-20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 – even first-time offenders.
Improper relationships between educator and student is not currently listed as a “reportable conviction or adjudication” under Article 62.001(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and therefore those convicted of this offense typically do not have to register as a sex offender unless otherwise ruled by the court. However, efforts have been made to close this loophole.
What about colleges and universities?
Texas sex crime law only applies to relationships between students and educators in primary and secondary schools. It does not apply to colleges and universities, which typically have their own internal guidelines regarding these types of relationships. A relationship between a college student and a professor is not considered a criminal offense in Texas.
“This man saved my life from false imprisonment. Neal’s belief in ‘liberty and justice for all’ as laid out in the Constitution of the United States, and especially as that principle relates to constitutional rights regarding the receipt of a fair trial, coupled with his refusal to quit fighting, are attributes of a noble spirit and a man of high character. When I interviewed Neal to defend me against very serious false accusations and criminal charges that followed, his candor about what I was up against and his real interest in my general welfare made choosing him to defend me a ‘no brainer.’ Hiring Neal after hearing Dick DeGuerin say ‘Neal is a real fighter’ was the best decision I could have made and this was after interviewing a number of attorneys. He cares about people, truth, and justice; an attorney who will not give up; a man who will defend the rights of anyone accused of a crime with every fiber of his being to ensure fairness and the protection of our legal rights.”
Houston | Client’s child sex abuse case was dismissed
Defenses against an improper teacher / student relationship sex crime charge
In order to attain a sex crime conviction for improper sexual relations with a student, a prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the school employee or teacher being charged acted with criminal intent and engaged in sexual contact with the student. A common defense strategy is to question the evidence of a sexual relationship or reveal possible ulterior motives the alleged victim may have to accuse the defendant of a sex crime.
In addition, Texas statute 21.12 provides two affirmative defenses for educators charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a student. A sex offense has not occurred if the relationship was between two consenting adults and one of the following statements is true:
- The teacher was the spouse of the person enrolled at the school.
- The educator was less than three years older than the enrolled student and they had a preexisting relationship before the defendant worked at the school or in the district.
Other general defenses may apply depending on your situation. Consult an experienced attorneys to determine what other defenses may apply to your unique case.
Examples of inappropriate teacher / student relationships
What constitutes an “improper relationship” between educator and student in Texas?
While the law is clear on how it defines improper behavior between a teacher and student, the application of these statutes are often complicated. Here are some real-life scenarios of recent teacher-student sexual misconduct cases and how they played out:
- Lockhart High School science teacher Sarah M. Fowlkes, age 27, was arrested and suspended from her job for alleged illicit contact with a 17-year-old student. Police claim their communication was of a sexual nature.
- In Montgomery County, 37-year-old Conroe ISD police officer Christopher Sutton had a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old student at the district’s Caney Creek High School until a 25-year-old man named Brian Ortiz, who also had a relationship with the student, threatened to turn Sutton in for violating improper relationship law. It was then discovered that Ortiz, a Conroe high school football referee, was subject to the same law. Both Sutton and Ortiz were charged with felonies.
- Former Aldine ISD teacher Alexandria Vera, age 24, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student. The boy’s family knew of their relationship and approved. A supportive letter from the boy’s mother was even read in court prior to sentencing.
- Houston ISD substitute teacher Pete Hernandez was charged with three counts of indecency with a child after allegedly engaging in “inappropriate conduct” with three students at Looscan Elementary School. A Wisdom High School ISD teacher was also arrested recently and formally charged by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for having an improper relationship with a student.
The list goes on. Reports and news stories of improper relationship cases are extremely common nowadays as the media tries to capitalize on the sensationalism and readership that such stories bring in. Unfortunately, thanks to the Internet, these individuals will likely never be able to lead a normal life – even if their charges are dropped and they are found to be innocent.
What to do if you are being investigated for improper teacher / student sexual misconduct
An investigation or charge for an improper teacher-student relationship is serious. If you or a loved one are in danger of facing this offense, do not delay in contacting a criminal defense attorney near you who focuses on these complex sex crime cases.
Houston sex crime defense lawyer Neal Davis has skillfully defended thousands of clients in all types of legal matters for over 25 years , including charges of improper educator-student relationships. For over a decade, Neal worked alongside Texas criminal defense legend Dick DeGuerin and even appeared as lead counsel in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case. During your initial consultation, we’ll put our experience and passion to work for you right away. Time is not on your side, so contact us as soon as possible.