Online Solicitation Laws in Texas
It’s easier than ever to communicate with electronic devices. Emails, text messaging and video chatting are technologies that many people use on a daily basis to stay in touch with friends, family and loved ones. When these technologies are used to carry out an illegal action, criminal charges may be the result.
Engaging in sexual conversations with minors using electronic means of communication is a serious felony in Texas. In an attempt to protect children, Texas has created tough laws to prosecute anyone who tries to entice, lure or persuade children to engage in sexual behavior.
What Is Online Solicitation of A Minor?
Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code states that online solicitation of a minor occurs when a person aged 17 or older uses the Internet, email or any electronic means of communication in an attempt to get a person younger than 17 to engage in sexual conversations or activity. This includes any type of explicit sexual language or exchanging sexually explicit photos or videos.
It is also an offense to attempt to persuade a person younger than 17 to engage in any type of sexual activity or any type of sexual performance.
Stories of online solicitation of a minor often appear in the media. In these stories, police departments or concerned citizens sometimes create sting operations to catch suspected sexual predators. As part of the operation, a person who is actually an adult may pose as a young child to lure suspected predators into engaging in sexually explicit language. Some people may believe that engaging in this type of conversation with an adult posing as a minor may constitute entrapment or may not actually be illegal.
However, Texas law is very clear. It is illegal for an adult to engage in any type of electronic sexual discussion with a person who:
- Claims to be under the age of 17
- Is believed by the adult to be under the age of 17
So, if a person claims to be a minor or if the adult believes that the person to whom they are speaking is a minor, criminal charges can be filed if sexual discussions take place.
For example, in February of 2016, a 36-year-old man in Justin, TX, was arrested on suspicion of online solicitation of a minor. The arrest was made after a 9-year-old girl’s mother noticed some sexually explicit messages in her daughter’s phone. She then took the phone and exchanged messages with the man, posing as her own daughter. They made arrangements to meet and the man drove from Grapevine to Justin for the meeting. At that time, law enforcement was waiting and placed him under arrest. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in state prison.
Online solicitation of a minor is a very serious crime that can be punished with a harsh sentence. Under Texas law, online solicitation of a minor is a felony of the third degree. This means that a conviction for this offense can lead to:
- Incarceration in state prison for up to 10 years
- A fine of up to $10,000
If the minor involved in a particular case is under the age of 14 years, this crime can be enhanced to a second degree felony. If this occurs, the sentence can include:
- Incarceration in state prison for up to 20 years
- A fine of up to $10,000
In some cases, a person who is convicted of online solicitation of a minor may be ordered to register as a sex offender and submit to supervised monitoring upon release from incarceration.
Texas laws regarding this offense have been carefully crafted to nullify common defenses to these charges. For example, the Texas Penal Code states that it is not a defense to prosecution to claim that the defendant did not actually intend to meet with a minor for sexual purposes. Similarly, it is not a valid legal defense to argue that the scheduled meeting never took place or that the defendant was only engaging in a fantasy.
Arranging a meeting with a minor with sexual intentions is enough to prosecute a defendant.
However, it is a valid legal defense to claim that the defendant was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct. Also, if the adult and the minor are legally married, this fact can be used as a legal defense.
A defense attorney may be able to help defendants accused of this crime fight these charges in court. This may result in lowered charges that avoid jail time or sex offender registration. Consulting with an attorney is the best way to prepare this type of legal defense.
If you or someone you know is facing charges of a sexual crime, it’s important to retain a strong legal defense. Brett A. Podolsky is a Houston-based lawyer that has the strength and experience needed to protect your rights. Contact his office today at (713) 227-0087.