Statutory rape is perhaps one of the most dreaded sex crimes on the books because, for many people, it occurs without their knowledge or even as part of a loving relationship. Even still, sexual contact with a minor below the Houston age of consent is always a felony – whether it occurs in a loving, peaceful relationship or as a blurry one-night-stand.
However, it is still up to the state to prove that an unlawful relationship occurred. You must tread carefully, but you do have legal strategies available to defend yourself.
What is the age of consent, and why does it make such a difference in these relationships? Keep reading to learn more about statutory rape, sexual assault, the penalties, and the possible defenses.
What is Statutory Rape in Texas?
The Texas penal code doesn’t have a section called “statutory rape.” Instead, statutory rape falls under the broader umbrella of sexual assault and exists in three different categories:
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Indecency with a child
What are the differences between these three charges?
The Texas penal code refers to sexual assault as knowingly or intentionally engaging in a sex act (including oral sex) without the other person’s consent. In the case of statutory rape, the law says that it is sexual assault when you commit a sex act with a child under the age of 17 “regardless of whether the person knows the age of the child at the time of the offense.”
Aggravated Sexual Assault
Aggravated sexual assault applies when you knowingly or intentionally engage in a sex act with a child under 14 years old “regardless of whether the person knows the age of the victim at the time of the offense.”
Indecency with a Child
The third crime falls under Texas Penal Code Chapter 22. Indecency with a child includes engaging in sexual contact with a child under 17 with the intent “to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.” This can include exposing your genitals or anus to the child or causing the child to expose themselves to you.
In most cases, indecency takes place in person.
When someone exposes themselves or encourages a child under the age of 18 years to do so via photo and video, it often falls under another crime, including “promotion or unlawful disclosure of intimate visual materials” or “possession/promotion of child pornography,” depending on who is in the pictures and who possesses them.
Pictures can also fall under the category of “sexual performance by a child,” which includes “lewd exhibition” when the person depicted is a minor. The rules (including the age of consent) around these crimes are different from sexual assault and indecency with a child, and it can often be contradictory.
For a free legal consultation with a age of consent and statutory rape laws lawyer serving Houston, call 713-225-1900
What Is the Age of Consent in Texas?
The age of consent in Texas is currently 17 years old. Anyone 16 and under cannot legally consent to sexual activity of any kind, no matter whether they say “yes” or even initiate the contact.
When a person reaches the legal age of consent, they can then give consent to participate in sexual activity with anyone they choose who is also able to consent legally.
What if You Didn’t Know the Victim’s Age?
Unfortunately, the law specifically states that it doesn’t matter if you knew or didn’t know the victim’s age. It is very important for someone who is 17 years or older to be cautious and not engage in prohibited sexual conduct.
It doesn’t even matter if they have a convincing fake ID and lied about their age. The law says that participating in sexual activity with someone aged 16 years or under still counts as statutory rape (if you are more than three years older than them).
Additionally, it is essential to keep in mind that age difference makes no difference in cases that involve coercion or force, sexual abuse, as well as the lack of statutory consent.
Houston Age of Consent and Statutory Rape Laws Attorney 713-225-1900
What Does the Prosecution Need to Prove to Bring a Criminal Charge of Statutory Rape?
To prove that statutory rape occurred, the state needs to establish three facts:
- A sexual relationship occurred (whether it was intercourse or another non-penetrative sexual contact).
- The parties were not/are not married.
- The victim was below the age of consent at the time of the relationship.
The state must prove all three beyond a reasonable doubt.
Although the case seems cut and dry initially, determining whether a sexual relationship occurred isn’t always easy for the state to prove. It either requires the complaining victim to admit to the relationship or other evidence or witnesses that confirm the unlawful relationship.
The state’s ability to find either can be difficult, particularly when the complaining victim isn’t the one who initiated the complaint (i.e. if the case was brought by their parents or guardian).
What are the Penalties for Statutory Rape in Texas?
Many sexual assault cases in Texas are second-degree felonies. Under Texas law, a second-degree felony comes with a penalty of two to 20 years in prison. Second-degree felonies also include fines of up to $10,000.
Because aggravated sexual assault involves someone under 14, it is a first-degree felony. It carries a penalty of five to 99 years in prison. It also includes fines of up to $10,000.
Indecency with a child (exposing yourself or exposing their genitals) is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by two to ten years imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000.
Do Sex Offenders Need to Register?
If convicted of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, or indecency with a child, you may also need to register as a sex offender. Whether or not you must register if convicted depends on your charges, the severity of the crime, and the sentence.
If you are required to register as a sex offender with the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS), you could have issues in the future with securing employment, finding a place to live, or enrolling in school.
A Guide to Defenses for Statutory Rape in Texas
If you are charged with sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, or indecency with a child, and the crime pertains to statutory rape, you must choose your defense very carefully.
Outside of arguing that there is no proof of the relationship or that the defendant is falsely accused, the only two named defenses in Texas law are Romeo and Juliet laws and marriage exceptions.
In other words, the law says it doesn’t matter if:
- You didn’t know their age.
- The minor lied about their age.
- You are in a committed relationship and love each other.
- You made sure they provided enthusiastic consent before every sexual encounter.
These are not valid defenses. Why? Because the law says that you cannot, under any circumstances, have sexual contact with someone who the law prevents from giving consent (with the exception of the Romeo and Juliet law and marriage).
The Romeo and Juliet Law
Not all instances of a person over 18 engaging in sexual activity with someone 16 or under fall under statutory rape.
Texas provides a “Romeo and Juliet” law to cover situations where someone between ages 14 and 16 can give consent. However, they can only consent to someone who is within three years of their own age.
A couple who is 20 and 17 years old can lawfully engage in sexual activity without fear of statutory rape because a 17-year-old can consent, and their ages are close enough under the law.
However, once the three-year age gap widens, it doesn’t matter if there’s a difference of a year. Contact between a 22-year-old and 16-year-old is just as illegal as contact between a 44-year-old and a 16-year-old.
It is also important to note that the Romeo and Juliet law only governs statutory consent issues.
It doesn’t mean that a 20-year-old can’t sexually assault a 17-year-old, even if the 17-year-old can consent to sex by definition of the law. The Romeo and Juliet law only means that sexual activity between them isn’t illegal by default.
Keep in mind that there’s also a lower age limit of 14. There is no scenario in which someone over 17 can engage in sexual activity with minors under 14. It’s always a crime (aggravated sexual assault), and it doesn’t matter if you knew the child’s age at the time of the offense.
What if Only a few Months Make Romeo and Juliet Laws Invalid?
An 18-year old and a 15-year-old can lawfully engage in sexual activity, but a 19-year-old and 15-year-old cannot.
Even a slight difference in age is meaningful for the law. A single year means the 19-year-old committed statutory rape; they are guilty of the same crime as if they were 20 years older and all else was the same.
What if the Minor is My Spouse?
Marriage is a common and valid defense against statutory rape. A person over 17 married to someone under 17 can engage in sexual activity without it becoming statutory rape. However, this is only true as long as they are legally married.
Additionally, this does not eliminate the potential for marital rape. Marital rape is a crime regardless of the age of the victim and the alleged perpetrator. At the same time, the cover of marriage for statutory rape is coming to an end – at least for future occurrences.
Children Under 16 Years Old Cannot get Married in Texas Without Judicial Approval
In 2017, Texas banned marriage among anyone under 16. Anyone who attempts to marry someone who is 16 or 17 after September 1, 2017, needs judicial consent to do so. So, if a teenager marries someone more than three years older than them, there should always be less than a year before they are legally able to provide consent to sexual activity anyway.
As a result, marriage is less likely to cover today’s cases. Couples in which one party is under 16 aren’t going to get judicial consent for a legal marriage, even if their parents sign off on the relationship. By the time a 16-year-old gets married, there are only a few months left before they can legally consent.
Again, neither the Romeo and Juliet law nor marriage are covers for violent or coercive sexual encounters. Sexual assault is still possible within these relationships, and it can be prosecuted even if the relationship itself is legal. In cases of forced or coerced sexual assault, you may need a different defense entirely.
If You Have Been Charged with Statutory Rape, We Can Advise You of Your Next Steps
If you find yourself arrested for or questioned in relation to statutory rape, then you need to take action immediately. Don’t wait until the state brings charges.
Refrain From Contacting the Complaining Victim or Their Family
First, you need to end contact with the complaining victim and all witnesses. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a consensual relationship, if you are friends, or if you are barely acquaintances. You should not contact them – or anyone related to them (friends or family) – again, until your lawyer tells you it’s possible.
Staying apart can be very difficult for couples who fall outside the Romeo and Juliet exclusion, but it is critical for the accused. Everything you say to the complaining witness can be used against you, including both admissions to sexual contact and denials of it.
For example, if a complaining victim’s parents call the police, but the parents don’t have proof of sexual activity, they can get evidence from the victim’s texts or messages. Even saying, “we didn’t do anything wrong” can be weaponized as an admission of guilt.
Do not Talk to Law Enforcement Without Your Lawyer Present
Second, you should not speak to anyone without a criminal defense attorney, including the police. You should not make any statements to the police at all – even informally. As soon as the police make contact, you should exercise your right to ask for representation.
Keep Your Case’s Information Confidential
Finally, you should not discuss your case with anyone, whether or not there are charges. Do not discuss it with your friends, and certainly do not speak out in a public place, like social media. Even though it is very tempting to clear your name or issue a denial of these damaging accusations, resist the urge. Unfortunately, statements made without a lawyer often come back to haunt you.
Your best option is to say nothing and let your lawyer and the justice system speak for you. If you didn’t do anything wrong and the state has no evidence, then you don’t have to say anything publicly.
We Can Help You Build a Strong Defense Against Statutory Rape Charges
There’s a reason that so many people fear statutory rape. You can commit it without realizing what you did, and the state built that notion into the law.
Fortunately, the state still has to prove their case, and proving the existence of an inappropriate sexual relationship can be tricky, particularly if the case has a “he-said-she-said” element. Even still, your defense also needs to be perfect, and you need to be careful of your movements both before and after being charged.
How Can a Lawyer in Houston Help You Fight Statutory Rape Charges?
You can defend yourself in a criminal justice case. However, the number-one issue here is credibility. Serving as your own legal counsel, in addition to being the defendant in a serious criminal case, can ultimately work against you. This is why it’s important to consider securing legal representation from a criminal defense lawyer who has successfully litigated cases in the past.
Jay Cohen is one of those lawyers. The founder of Blass Law, Attorney Cohen, has successfully defended his clients against numerous charges. In one case that he handled, he was able to secure a “not guilty” verdict for a client charged with the continuous sexual assault of a child.
Other successful outcomes include:
- A not guilty verdict for a client charged with capital murder
- The dismissal of a case involving assault on a family member
- A not guilty verdict for a client charged with carrying 101 pounds of cocaine
We have also secured favorable outcomes for people charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), as well.
You Can Work with Our Firm Even if Charges Have not yet Been Filed Against You
Even if charges have not yet been filed against you, you want to start building your defense as soon as possible. Texas does not take cases of statutory rape lightly, and you can rest assured that the prosecution will do everything in its power to build a case against you.
By securing prompt legal aid:
- We can determine whether the charges filed against you are valid.
- We can begin gathering evidence to prove your innocence.
- We can help you avoid any pitfalls that could harm your case (like messaging the complaining victim).
We will work to have the charges against you dropped, reduced, or dismissed.
Call the Attorneys at Blass Law now to Learn About Your Criminal Defense Options
If you are arrested for or charged with sexual assault, you want a lawyer immediately. You shouldn’t speak to the police, prosecutors, the victim, or anyone else without first consulting our criminal defense attorney.
Are you facing charges in Texas based on your relationship with a minor? Or were you falsely accused of sexual assault? Call Blass Law (available 24/7) for a case evaluation.