With a few exceptions, if you are an adult in Texas and you have sex with someone under 17, you are a sex offender. It doesn’t matter if the sex was supposedly “consensual” because Texas law says that those under 17 don’t have the capacity to consent. You face serious prison time, registration on the sex offender registry, and the damage to your reputation, career, and life that comes with the stigma of being a registered sex offender.
No Violence Needed, Misunderstanding No Defense
Crimes involving sex with a minor are commonly called “statutory rape,” because the lack of consent that is a defining characteristic of rape is written into the statute prohibiting such conduct. This means that sex with a minor will be considered “rape” even if there was supposed consent and even if there was no violence, force, or assault involved. Furthermore, claiming to not know that the victim was underage or that they misrepresented their age is not a sustainable defense.
“Statutory Rape” is Actually a Number of Offenses
“Statutory rape” in Texas is actually a number of different criminal offenses, all of which carry severe penalties.
- Aggravated sexual assault includes sexual penetration between a minor who is younger than 14 years old and a defendant of any age. This offense is a first degree felony, and penalties include at least five (and up to 99) years in prison.
- Sexual assault includes sexual penetration between a minor who is younger than 17 and a defendant who is three or more years older than the victim. This offense is a second degree felony, and penalties include at least two (and up to 20) years in prison.
- Indecency with a child includes sexual contact (sexual touching other than penetration, even over clothing, that is meant to arouse or gratify sexual desire) between a minor who is younger than 17 and a defendant who is not more than three years older than the victim. This includes oral sex. This offense is a second degree felony, and penalties include at least two (and up to 20) years in prison.
(Tx. Penal Code § 22.021, 22.011, & 22.11.)
In many if not most instances of sex crimes involving a minor, a convicted offender must register with the state of Texas as a sex offender, meaning that any friends, colleagues, neighbors and current or potential employers will be able to easily discover the offender’s background and crimes.
“Romeo & Juliet” Exception
In 2011, Texas enacted a change in the law commonly known as the “Romeo & Julie” exception that spares certain younger adults from having to register as sex offenders for having sex with a minor. For this exception to apply:
- The minor must be 14 or older
- There is no more than a three-year age difference between the two parties
- The sex is consensual
It is important to note that the “Romeo & Juliet” exception will not prevent the adult individual from facing prosecution for an underlying crime such as sexual assault of a child, but it does exempt the accused from registering as a sex offender.
If you are facing charges involving sex with a minor, the consequences to your future are grave. While there are defenses available, the nature of the laws makes it essential that you retain an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney who can work with you to either defeat the charges altogether or keep the consequences to a minimum.