The legal age of consent in Texas, as stipulated by Chapter 21 of the Texas Penal Code, is 17 years of age. What does this mean? It means that until an individual is 17 years old, they cannot legally choose to participate in sexual activities.
This has many implications, the most obvious of which is that it is illegal for any person over the age of 17 to engage in sexual activity with any person under the age of 17, regardless of perceived consent — that is, with the exception of those who are protected under the Romeo and Juliet law, more on that later.
Alleged sex crimes against anyone under the legal age of consent are prosecuted aggressively in state and federal courts: they carry serious fines and lengthy jail sentences, not to mention a lifetime on the Texas sex offender registry. Here’s everything you need to know about the age of consent in Texas and the charges associated with violating it.
Age of consent vs. legal age in Texas
As we’ve laid out, the age of consent is 17 in Texas, but is this the same as the legal age a minor is considered to become an adult? Is 17 a minor in Texas? To be clear, an individual is only legally considered an adult once they turn 18 years old, but 17 is the legal age of consent. This is why sex crimes perpetrated against minors in the state of Texas stipulate that they are “minors under the age of legal consent” rather than just “minors.”
The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas
The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas acts less as a get-out-of-jail-free card and more as a stipulation created to protect young people in romantic relationships from being prosecuted unfairly.
Imagine this: a 17-year-old senior and a 16-year-old junior have been happily dating all year. The senior’s birthday approaches, and they turn 18, only they are still dating the 16-year-old who won’t turn 17 for another few months. The senior is now an adult, while the junior remains a minor. Is the senior guilty of statutory rape, despite the fact that they have enjoyed a loving, consensual relationship?
This is where the Romeo and Juliet Law comes into play. The Romeo and Juliet Law, listed as an affirmative defense to prosecution under Texas Penal Code 22.011 under subsection (a)(2), states that individuals between the ages of 14 and 17 may legally consent to sexual relationships with other individuals within three years of their age.
Romeo and Juliet law age gap
So, can an 18 year old date a 16 year old in Texas? Or is the senior from our story risking serious jail time? According to the Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas, an 18 year old can date a 16 year old, so long as they remain within three years of age. The Romeo and Juliet Law cuts off at the ages of 14 and 20. If the victim is younger than 14, they cannot consent to sexual activity with any person, and if the actor is 20, sexual acts with anyone under the age of 17 would be considered statutory rape.
Offenses against minors under the legal age of consent
Sex crimes committed against minors under the age of consent are serious crimes. Accusations for offenses against minors are prosecuted aggressively, and there is no guarantee that the truth will come to light. If you have been falsely accused of a sex crime against a minor you may be looking at federal charges. Don’t hesitate — if you want a fair shot your best bet is to hire experienced sex crime lawyers, like the Texas federal attorneys at Flanary Law Firm, to fight for your freedom.
If you don’t, you could be facing one or more of the following charges:
Statutory rape, which is charged as a form of Texas sexual assault, occurs when a person over the age of 18 engages in sexual activities with a person under the age of 17. It is a second-degree felony that can land you in prison for 2-20 years.
If any person over the age of 18 engages in sex acts with a person under 17, with consent being irrelivent and regardless of proof of force, it is considered statutory rape — the Romeo and Juliet Law being an important exception.
Aggravated sexual assault
What is aggravated sexual assault? Aggravated assault in Texas is defined as non-consensual sexual conduct of any kind. Non-consensual sex with a minor is a first-degree felony punishable by five years to life in prison. That minimum sentence will increase from five years to 25 years if the minor is under the age of six, or under the age of 14 and sustained any bodily injuries.
Continuous sexual abuse of a child
Also known as Jessica’s Law, continuous sexual abuse of a child is charged under Texas Penal Code 21.02. The elements of continuous sexual abuse of a child are as follows:
- The individual has committed two or more acts of sexual abuse
- The acts of abuse were committed over a duration of longer than 30 days
- At the time of the abusive acts the actor was 17 years of age or older, and the victim was younger than 14 years of age
Continuous sexual abuse in Texas is a first-degree felony punishable by 25-99 years in prison. Those convicted of continuous sexual abuse are ineligible for parole.
Indecency with a child
Charges for indecency with a child vary depending on the nature of the act. A person exposing themselves to a child or causing a child to expose themselves is a third-degree felony while engaging in sexual conduct with a child is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
According to Texas Penal Code 43.26, a person commits the offense of possession of promotion of child pornography when they “knowingly or intentionally possessing visual pornographic material depicting a child younger than 18 years.”
The first charge for child pornography is a third-degree felony, and repeat convictions will only make consequences more severe, with third and subsequent charges representing the possibility of life in prison.
Accused of an offense against a minor? Call the federal sex crimes attorneys at Flanary Law Firm
Accusations for sexual offenses against a minor under the age of consent in Texas are among the most serious a person can face. If you or a loved one has been accused, and want any hope of telling your side of the story, you’ll need an experienced sex crimes lawyer to fight by your side.
Donald Flanary has experience defending a variety of high-stakes, felony sex offenses, and is not afraid to take them to trial. Call Flanary Law Firm today at (210) 738-8383 or contact us online for a free consultation.