Romeo and Juliet is a classic tale of star-crossed lovers who were quite young. Still, people idolize this story of desperate teenage love as something to aspire to. The reality is that in Texas, Romeo would probably have been prosecuted for the age difference between him and Juliet.
Meeting people online can be exciting, but also dangerous – as one Vidor man found out. At 19, he met a girl online who said she was of legal age of consent.
When they met up and had sex, it was discovered she was not the age she actually told him, but younger. Now he’s serving time for sexual assault on a child and will be a registered sex offender for life.
Of course, Texas state law has changed since this man was convicted, and not every scenario where two teens are close enough in age will result in charges. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself from serious charges under Texas statutory rape laws.
What is Statutory Rape?
Statutory rape in Texas is defined as sexual contact or sexual penetration between someone younger than age 17 and an adult. However, statutory rape is broken down into a few categories, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.
Indecency with a Child
This crime requires the adult to have sexual contact with a child. Sexual contact can be over or under clothes and involves any act aside from penetration that is meant to gratify or arouse sexual desire.
The law says a defendant must be at least three years older than the victim under age 17 to be in violation. The maximum penalty for this second-degree felony is 20 years in prison and fines of $10,000.
Sexual assault requires sexual penetration to occur between the minor and the adult who is at least three years older than the victim. It is a second-degree felony that is punishable by as many as 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
Aggravated Sexual Assault
This crime involves any type of sexual penetration with a child who is age 14 or younger with a defendant who is any age. It is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison and fines of $10,000.
Exceptions to Texas Statutory Rape Laws
There are two primary exceptions to the statutory rape laws in Texas. When a couple meets either of these circumstances, in the eyes of the law, no crime has been committed.
The Romeo and Juliet Exception
The purpose of this law is to protect teens from serious criminal charges when engaging in consensual sex with another teen close to them in age. Any minor between the age of 14 and 17 who has consensual sex with someone who is older than they are by three years or less is protected under this law.
Consensual sex between a married couple, even if that couple is a minor and their adult spouse, is protected under the law. Marriage is not a valid defense for forced sexual contact, but this exception does help to protect those who get married young consensually.
Registering as a Sex Offender
If a person is found guilty of any of the crimes above, then they must register as a sex offender in Texas. This means they must register themselves in their county or city with the local police and provide their name, address, conviction details, and photographs. If you move, you must re-register.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.