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What is the Age of Consent in Texas?

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In Texas, the age of consent is 17 years old. Throughout the United States, each state’s age of consent is the youngest age at which a person is deemed mature enough by law to consent to sexual activity with a partner. In other words, a person 16 years of age or younger in the state of Texas isn’t legally old enough to agree to participate in any sexual activity. Doing so may result in a partner’s prosecution for statutory rape.

The statutory rape statute in Texas is violated when an individual participates in a consensual sexual activity with a person under the age of 17. However, a defense may exist when the alleged offender is three years older or less and of the opposite sex than the underage victim. Sexual intercourse between a school employee and a student is also against the law. If the couple is married, the age of consent does not apply.

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Texas Age of Consent

If you have questions about the age of consent in Texas, you’re not alone. The age of consent is age 17 in Texas. Quite interestingly, though, the phrase age of consent doesn’t appear in Texas’s statutes.

The state of Texas forbids any individual from having sex with a person younger than age 13. This is the age at which the law presumes the person can’t provide consent to sexual activity. For that reason, a defendant charged with having consensual activity with a party less than the age of 13 years needs especially strong and experienced legal representation.

No ‘Close-in-Age’ Exemption in Texas

In the past, a close-in-age exemption, sometimes called a Romeo and Juliet law, didn’t exist in Texas. Romeo and Juliet laws are on the books in other states to allay the prosecution of persons who engage in consensual sex activities when both parties are very close in age and one of the partners is younger than the state age of consent.

Ironically, some teens faced long jail sentences because of some Texas laws. These laws left some parents fighting against statutes intended to protect their sons and daughters from sexual predators. However, when teenaged lovers—or young lovers close in age—were charged with statutory rape or age of consent laws, the punishments didn’t seem to fit the crime.

A Real Life Example

Before passage of Romeo and Juliet laws in Texas, a senior in high school, 18 years old, was charged with statutory rape for engaging in a sexual relationship with a freshman-aged girlfriend at the same school. Since the age of consent is 17 in Texas, and the girlfriend was 14 years old, the young man pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal sexual misconduct. He received a one-year jail sentence and three years of community supervision (probation).

After the young man served his time, the couple reunited. This was a violation of the terms and conditions of his probation. As a result, he received a five – 15-year prison sentence. After serving six years, he was required to register as a sex offender.

This limits the type of work he can do and where he may live. He feels his life is ruined. The relationship he valued so highly didn’t survive the years in prison.

Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas

At last, legislators responded to parents’ demands by passing a so-called Romeo and Juliet law. The laws exempt some teens and young adults from prosecution when they engage in a sexual relationship with a person younger than the age of consent.

Under the law today, if a young person older than 17 years has consensual sex with a person younger than age 17 years (but at least 15 years, with a maximum four-year difference in ages), the law won’t require the older partner to register as a sex offender if he or she is convicted of statutory rape.

It’s also possible for convicted persons to clear their good names:

  • An individual previously required to register as a sex offender in a consensual sexual activity with another party younger than 17 years may ask the court to review his or her case.
  • If the court determines that the relationship was consensual and that the defendant doesn’t pose a risk to the public, it can remove the individual’s requirement to register as a sex offender.

Older Persons May Face Charges

The new Romeo and Juliet law in Texas has limitations on those it protects. The law now protects the older partner in the relationship from the need to register as a sex offender, but it doesn’t protect him or her from prosecution of additional sex-related crimes, e.g. statutory rape.

If you’re facing possible or actual criminal charges, seek legal help now. An experienced Houston sex crimes attorney can review any evidence against you and protect your rights.

Why Did Texas Pass Romeo and Juliet Law?

Many people in Texas believe that an adult who engages in any type of sexual activity with a person younger than age 17 should face aggressive prosecution. Simultaneously, though, many citizens of Texas believe that close in age teens shouldn’t be required to register as a sex offender for life.

For that reason, citizens encouraged legislators to pass the Romeo and Juliet law. It provides legal relief for a marginally older person who makes the decision to have a sexual relationship with another close-in-age person, such as a 16-year-old who decides to have a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old.

What if an Adult Believes the Young Person Was ‘Of Age’?

An adult may mistakenly assume or believe that a young person is older than 17 years old when he or she is under the age of consent (age 17 in Texas). Making a mistake isn’t a legal defense to a statutory rape charge.

Adults with Authority over Teens

Juries in Texas typically have a poor impression of persons in authority who decide to have sexual relationships with teenaged persons in their care.

For instance, a teacher, clergyman, or coach with authority over a young person should think carefully before engaging in a sexual relationship with that young person. He or she may face a sex crimes charge in court. Even if he or she is eventually cleared of a sex-related crime, the allegation may cause long-term damage to his or her reputation and career.

Punishments for Violation of the Age of Consent in Texas

Five statutory sexual abuse charges are available in Texas. These charges are used to litigate child abuse-related and age of consent crimes in the state. The severity of any criminal charge, such as misdemeanor, a felony, and so on, depends on the alleged acts committed and the ages (or relative ages) of the victim and perpetrator:

Criminal Charge Severity Punishment

Aggravated sexual assault First-Degree Felony Up to life in prison (99 years) and/or a fine up to $10,000
Continuous sexual abuse of a young child/children First-Degree Felony Up to life in prison (99 years) and/or a fine up to $10,000
Indecency with a child Second-Degree Felony Up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000
Third-Degree Felony Up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000
Prohibited sexual conduct Second-Degree Felony Up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000
Third-Degree Felony Up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000
Sexual assault First-Degree Felony Up to life in prison (99 years) and/or a fine up to $10,000

Contact an Experienced Sex Crimes Attorney in Houston, TX

Even under today’s Romeo and Juliet law in Texas, it’s still possible to break the law. The defendant faces very severe penalties if convicted. Don’t wait. Consult with a qualified Texas sex crimes lawyer if you have questions about the age of consent in Texas.

If you or someone you love has been accused of a sex crime, contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston to schedule an initial case evaluation at 713-227-0087 now.

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