Learn about various sex crime charges and procedures under Texas’ penal code so you can be prepared
The criminal justice system comes down particularly hard on sex offenses, especially in Texas. Lawmakers, judges and prosecutors are pressured by society to be ruthless, unforgiving and aggressive on sex offenders, especially child sex offenders. For this reason, persons accused of a sex crime in Texas typically face harsh punishments that don’t always fit the crime such as many years in prison or a lifetime sex offender registration.
Being convicted of a sex offense in Texas can change the projection of your entire life as you deal with potential time in prison, steep fines, registering as a sex offender, undue stress, not to mention the loss of your job, freedom and reputation. The stakes could not be higher, which is why it is imperative you have the best local sex crime defense attorney fighting for you during this difficult time.
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What is a sex offense?
According to the Texas Penal Code, the following acts are considered sex crimes in the state of Texas:
- Child sex offenses (includes continuous sex abuse of a child, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, statutory rape, sex trafficking, child prostitution, sexual performance by a child, sexting, etc.)
- Online solicitation of a minor
- Possession or distribution of child pornography
- Indecency with a child (by contact)
- Indecency with a child (by exposure)
- Public lewdness
- Indecent exposure
- Improper student-teacher relationship
- Invasive visual recording
- Unlawful disclosure and promotion of intimate visual material
- Promotion of prostitution
- Rape & sexual assault
Most sex offenses in Texas are considered felonies under state law. If convicted, the penalties of a first degree, second degree or state jail felony carry the potential for up to multiple years in prison, steep fines and sex offender registration. Sentencing for sex crimes vary from case to case, however, so you should consult a knowledgeable sex crime defense attorney for specific laws that may apply to your charge.
Registering as a sex offender in Texas
After being convicted of a sex crime in Texas, a person is typically required to register in the Texas Sex Offender Registration Program. Registering as a sex offender informs local law enforcement of the following information about the individual:
- Date of birth
- Home Address
- A recent color photograph
- A complete set of fingerprints
- Type of offense convicted of
- Age of victim
- Employment information
- Information on all online aliases used
In many adult sex offense cases, defendants remain registered on the sex offender list for the rest of their lives. Juvenile sex offenders must register for up to 10 years after the date of convictions. Failing to register is a felony.
Expungement: Sealing your criminal sex offense records
Texas law does allow for an offender’s criminal record to be sealed if they meet the necessary criteria. This process is known as “expungement,” and eligibility varies by state. Juvenile sex offenders are typically granted more leverage than adult offenders when it comes to being exempted from registering on a public sex offender list.
Factors that may make expungement a possibility include:
- If the sex crime was a minor offense that did not involve violence and occurred many years ago.
- If the victim was at least 15 years old and the offender was no more than 4 years older at the time of the crime.
- If the offense was consensual.
- If the defendant passes an individual risk assessment and requests the court for early termination.
Learn more about expungement and non-disclosure clauses.
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Texas Sex Crime Law FAQs
Here are some other common questions about sex crime laws in Texas:
Q: What is the legal age of consent in Texas?
The legal age for sexual consent in Texas is 17 years old. Texas does not strictly enforce penalties so long as the younger person (the alleged victim) is at least 14 years old and the age differential is 3 years or less. Texas’ age of consent laws are gender neutral, meaning they apply to both heterosexual and homosexual sexual conduct.
So can a 15-year-old date an 18-year-old in Texas? If talking about strictly dating, yes. No state has any laws against dating a minor so it is allowed. However, if talking about sex, the legal age limit for consent is 17; however, in this case the younger party is at least 14 and the older party is within 3 years of age so it is not considered a crime.
Q: What is Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas?
Many states have “Romeo and Juliet” laws in place to protect teens from sex crime charges and punishments if the case meets certain requirements. The details and applications of these laws vary by state. In Texas, Romeo and Juliet Law provides two main protections for cases involving consensual sexual relations:
- The three-year age gap defense. As in the example provided above, those accused of a sex crime in Texas may be exempt from persecution so long as they are within three years of the alleged victim and the alleged victim was at least 14 years old.
- The sex offender registration exemption. Although a person who has consensual sex with a minor is not protected from being charged with statutory rape if they are more than three years older than the alleged victim, Romeo and Juliet law may allow them be exempt from having to register as a sex offender if they meet certain requirements for engaging in consensual sexual relations with someone under the age of 17. These requirements are that the there is no more than a four-year age difference and the alleged victim is at least 15 years old.
To learn more about the requirements needed to apply Romeo and Juliet Law to your sex crime case, you’ll have to speak with a knowledgeable defense attorney who can review your individual circumstances.
Q: How far does a registered sex offender have to live from a school in Texas?
While certain states specify how far a registered sex offender can live from a school or playground, there is no such standard in Texas about where a sex offender can or cannot live. For registered sex offenders who are being supervised by the court and out on parole or probation, limits on how close they can live to a school or other “child safety zones” are determined on a case-by-case basis. Registered sex offenders who do not have court supervision can live anywhere they want, but the state keeps track of where they are and may take certain precautions to inform nearby residents.
In Texas, child safety zones, such as schools and playgrounds, do not necessarily impact where a registered sex offender can live, but they do restrict offenders from joining any programs that are based in these zones. This rule only applies to offenders under court supervision.
Q: What is the statute of limitations in Texas on indecency with a child charges?
In Texas, certain sex crime felonies have no limitations whatsoever – including indecency with a child. Due to changes made by the Texas legislature in 2008, there is also no statute of limitations for sex assault of a child or continuous sexual abuse of child.
The statute of limitations is a law aimed at protecting persons accused of a sex crime from being charged and punished for sex crimes allegedly committed a long time ago. The statute of limitations in sex offense cases is especially important and can be a compelling defense strategy if properly understood. You should contact a knowledgeable attorney in your area if you have questions about using the statute of limitations defense in your case.
Q: What are the punishments for indecency with a child in Texas?
According to Texas sex crime law, if convicted of indecent exposure or contact with a child (a third degree felony in Texas), an individual may be sentenced to 2-10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Aggravated sexual assault of a child in Texas, on the other hand, can lead to up to 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if convicted.
It is impossible to know the exactly how a defendant will be punished without knowing the specific charges and details about his or her case. You should always talk with an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you or a loved one are charged with a sex crime. Nothing can replace meeting a lawyer face-to-face to discuss your legal rights and options.