The Age of Consent in Texas
An allegation of a sexual offense involving a child can bring your life to a screeching halt. The accusation could lead to the loss of freedom, parental rights, housing and employment – based on nothing more than a statement. No physical evidence is required to make an arrest and the stakes are high. A conviction for an offense of this nature can result in a prison sentence that is decades long and a lifetime of registration as a sex offender. This article serves as a guide to the most commonly asked questions regarding child sex crimes, including what is the legal age of consent in Texas.
What is the Age of Consent in Texas?
Pursuant to Penal Code Sections 22.011 and 21.11, the age of consent in Texas is 17. The age of consent refers to the age at which an individual may legally consent to engage in sexual activity with another person.
Interestingly, if you were to search the Penal Code for “legal age of consent” in Texas, you would not find it. Instead, you must look at the laws that prohibit sexual activity with a minor. For example, Penal Code Section 22.011, which defines sexual assault of a child, defines a child as anyone under the age of 17. Similarly, Penal Code 21.11 prohibits sexual conduct with a child younger than the age of 17.
Therefore, under Texas law, with some exceptions, it is illegal to have sex with a person under the age of 17. This is sometimes called the statutory rape statute because an individual who is under the age of 17 is legally incapable of giving consent.
In Texas, once a person has turned 17, the law presumes they are able to give consent.
What is the Age of Consent Under Federal Law?
The federal age of consent is 18. Under federal law, it is illegal to cross state lines for the purpose of having sexual encounters with an individual under the age of 18. Therefore, a Texas resident may not travel to another state where the age of consent is lower for the purposes of having sex with someone under the age of 18. Doing so will subject that person to prosecution under federal law. 18 USC 2256 defines a minor as anyone under the age of 18. Under 18 USC 2251, it is a federal offense to induce, coerce, persuade, or entice a child under the age of 18 to engage in any sexual activity while affecting interstate commerce or crossing state lines. The age of consent in the individual states is irrelevant.
What is the Romeo-Juliet Law in Texas?
Both Penal Code 21.11 and Penal Code 22.011 provide slightly different affirmative defenses, but generally, allow an affirmative defense for a person who is no more than three years older than the child. This is sometimes referred to the Romeo-Juliet law in Texas. Please watch the informative video above by Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Letty Martinez to learn more about how Romeo-Juliet law are defenses to statutory rape.
The serious nature of these offenses and the significant collateral consequences has unfortunately led to a disproportionate number of false accusations being made over the years. For example, an accusation will almost always lead to a loss of employment, parental rights, and housing. This happens for a number of reasons. First, in order to affect an arrest, the police merely have to develop probable cause. This is a very low level of proof and is a far cry from proof required to convict a person of an offense. Second, as soon as an arrest is affected for this type of offense, it is likely any employer will terminate that person’s employment. Texas is an “at-will” state meaning employers can terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all. Third, once an allegation is made, CPS will conduct an independent investigation. CPS may implement child safety plans that limit the accused access to his or her own children. Fourth, once a case is filed, the accused will be subject to significant bond conditions, including not having any contact with individuals under the age of 17 (including the defendant’s own children), wearing a GPS monitor at all times, and staying at least 1,000 feet away from any school, child safety zone or area where children congregate. It’s important to point out that physical findings are not necessary to allege any type of sexual misconduct. A mere allegation alone is sufficient to result in an arrest and subject a person to all the consequences described here.
Clearly, even a false accusation can devastate a person’s life. Unfortunately, false accusations occur far too often for a variety of reasons. One of the most common occurrences is during a divorce or when there is a child-custody issue. One parent may coach the child to make a false accusation so that it terminates the other parent’s access to the child and significantly reduces the chances that parent will be awarded custody. Another common reason is the child was caught engaging in inappropriate behavior and are deflecting attention to someone else. One example might be a child who was caught being sexually active with his or her peers, and when confronted with the activity, makes a false accusation against the parent. A third reason for a false accusation is sometimes children who have been previously abused realize how much power these allegations have and use the allegation as a way to hurt an adult with whom they are upset.
Learn More: The Age of Consent in Other States
All of the partners at Varghese Summersett are former state and/or federal prosecutors. Our attorneys have worked both at the state and federal level. More importantly, our attorneys have prosecuted and defended these types of cases successfully. We have obtained dismissals, reductions, and no-bills on the most serious of sexual allegations. Letty Martinez was the Chief of the Crimes Against Children Unit and other attorneys at the firm served in this unit during their careers as prosecutors. Our firm has access to investigators, detectives, and resources specifically pertaining to the types of cases outlined in this article. The decades of experience we bring to the table means several things.
- First, prosecutors take us seriously. They know that we will be prepared in even the most complex of cases.
- Second, not only do we know the State’s playbook when it comes to handling these types of cases, our attorneys helped write the playbook. We know how they will prepare their case.
- We are proactive. We know what can be done to maximize the chances of a dismissal, reduction or no-bill.
- Finally, we know the strengths and weaknesses of a case and we will give you an honest straight-forward evaluation of the case so that you can utilize the information to decide if you want to put our extensive experience to work for a pre-trial resolution or in a jury trial.
Our attorneys have a track record of obtaining exceptional results in the most serious types of cases including aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault of a minor, indecency fondling, and online solicitation. Our attorneys include former chiefs of prosecuting agencies who helped write the playbook on the prosecution of these offenses. Put experienced criminal defense attorneys at your side. The allegations alone can result in CPS investigations and the loss of livelihood, while a plea or finding of guilt can result in prison time and sex offender registration. Find out how unsubstantiated allegations without physical findings can result in serious consequences without the right defense. Learn why a proactive defense is the best defense.
Call for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply to your plan and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.
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