First Time Sex Offenses: Texas Laws and Penalties
Sex crimes are widely considered to be some of the most serious offenses under the law. Not only is there a strong social stigma associated with sex crimes, but the judicial system often assigns harsh punishments to defendants who are convicted of sexual misconduct.
However, as with many types of criminal offenses, courts often allow some amount of leniency towards defendants who are first-time offenders. While punishments for sex crimes are severe, they may be less strict for a defendant who has no previous history of such acts.
In Texas, first-time sex offenders are treated very differently than serial offenders. This article will explain that difference in detail.
Texas Sex Offender Laws
When a person is charged with a sexual offense in Texas, the outcome of their case may depend on many factors. For example, some specific facts about the case can be introduced as evidence to support a conviction, including:
- The nature of the assault
- The age of the victim
- The status or profession of the defendant
- The defendant’s history of similar offenses
Of these factors, the defendant’s criminal history may be the most significant when it comes to determining a verdict and the sentence. A first-time offender may be punished less harshly than a person with several previous criminal convictions.
The nature of the sex crime for which the defendant is charged can also play a significant role. For a crime like aggravated sexual assault, the defendant will likely receive a very severe sentence if convicted, regardless of their criminal history.
A less severe sex crime, such as indecent exposure, may be punished less harshly and the judge may consider the defendant’s criminal history when determining the sentence.
First-Time Offenders vs. Repeat Offenders
The biggest difference between the sentencing of first-time sex offenders and repeat offenders may be the use of maximum sentences.
For example, in Texas, the crime of sexual assault is listed as a felony of the second degree. This means that a conviction for this crime may lead to a sentence of two to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
A first-time sex offender may not necessarily receive the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. However, a person with one or more previous convictions of sexual assault will be far more likely to face the full stint of 20 years behind bars. Additionally, in some cases, the judge may see fit to increase the penalty category for a sex crime conviction.
Suppose that James was convicted of sexual assault 20 years ago. He received a sentence of eight years in prison but he was paroled after serving only four years. Now, he has been convicted of a second sexual assault crime. The judge upgrades the penalty category from a second degree felony to a felony of the first degree. James is sentenced to 30 years in prison with no possibility of parole and he is also required to register as a sex offender for life.
In some cases, a person convicted of a sex crime may not be required to register as a sex offender if it is their first offense. However, a person convicted of sex crime for the second time is almost guaranteed to be ordered to register as a sex offender, possibly for life.
In Texas, some cities and counties offer diversionary programs for defendants convicted of certain crimes. While these programs can vary from one jurisdiction to another, they generally follow a similar pattern.
These programs offer leniency to defendants who may have broken the law as the result of a youthful mistake or a one-time problem. If a defendant successfully completes such a program, they may be allowed to receive a lighter sentence or even have the charge erased from their record.
These programs often require the defendant to:
- Complete a term of community service
- Maintain steady employment
- Stay free from drugs and alcohol
In most cases, these programs are only offered to non-violent, first-time offenders. Because many sex crimes involve some element of violence or the violation of consent, diversionary programs are not usually offered to sex offenders.
However, if a person commits a non-violent sexually based offense and they have no previous criminal history, a judge may decide that such a defendant is a good candidate for a diversionary program.
For example, Alan is a 19-year-old young man who was charged with indecent exposure after he flashed his genitals at a group of women while shouting vulgar language. Although the judge finds him guilty, he orders Alan to serve a sentence of deferred adjudication.
This means that Alan must complete 50 hours of community service, stay employed and submit to random drug tests for a period of six months. If he successfully completes this term, the judge may drop the charges from Alan’s record so that they will not show up on a background check.
Such diversionary programs are rarely offered to people who are charged with sex crimes. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to introduce evidence and cite the defendant’s lack of criminal history to argue that such a program is an appropriate choice.