As a rule, sex crimes are prosecuted as felonies, carrying mandatory jail time and the likely requirement for sex offender registration. However, some sex crimes that don’t involve violence or penetrative sexual contact with the victim may be charged as misdemeanors. This means that you could receive probation instead of jail time, and that sex offender registration may not be required.
Below, we provide a guide to Texas sex crimes that may be charged as misdemeanor-level offenses rather than felonies.
What Determines the Severity of a Texas Sex Crime?
Sex crimes are personal in nature, and therefore the severity of sex crime charges will depend upon a number of circumstances regarding the defendant, the alleged offense in question, and the alleged victim:
- The sexual acts in question: Any act involving penetrative sexual contact or violence will be charged as a felony-level offense. However, lesser forms of sexual contact, such as sexual touching, may be charged as misdemeanor-level offenses, as may offenses that do not involve sexual contact (for example, indecent exposure).
- The defendant’s age: If the defendant was a minor at the time of the offense, this may be considered a mitigating factor in prosecution of the offense. This is true even if the defendant is tried as an adult, which is often the case for sex crimes.
- The victim’s age: Another important factor is the age of the victim. If the victim is a minor child at the time of the offense and the defendant is an adult, any level of sex offense will most likely be charged as a felony. However, if the victim and defendant are closer in age and the crime does not involve sexual contact, the offense may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor in some cases.
- The victim’s relationship with the defendant: In some cases, the victim’s relationship with the defendant may be relevant. If the defendant has a position of authority or trust over the victim, this is an aggravating factor. Contrastingly, if the defendant and victim are in a consensual romantic relationship, this may be a mitigating factor in some cases.
- Prior sex crimes: If the defendant has a criminal history, particularly of sex crimes, this is considered an aggravating factor, and is likely to increase the severity of charges.
Sex crime prosecution is notoriously subjective, and the severity of charges and sentencing is often left in large part to the discretion of the prosecution. This subjectivity means that it’s even more important to have a competent defense attorney advocating for you.
Sex Crimes Charged as Misdemeanor Offenses in Texas
Let’s take a look at the common sex crimes that may be prosecuted as misdemeanors here, and the circumstances under which misdemeanor-level offenses can still be bumped up to felonies.
Public Lewdness. In public lewdness, the defendant engages in one of the following sexual acts in a public place, or is reckless about whether another person is present who will be offended or alarmed:
- An act of sexual intercourse
- An act of deviant sexual intercourse
- Sexual contact
Public lewdness is charged as a Class A misdemeanor.
Indecent Exposure. The defendant commits indecent exposure by exposing the anus or any part of the genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, and is reckless about whether another person is present who will be offended or alarmed by the act. This offense is charged as a Class B misdemeanor, unless the defendant has prior convictions or commits the offense with a minor present.
Voyeurism. The defendant commits voyeurism by observing the victim for the purpose of sexual gratification and without the victim’s consent while the victim is in a dwelling or other location in which the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Voyeurism is charged as a Class C misdemeanor, unless the defendant has two or more prior voyeurism convictions or if the victim is a minor child younger than 14 years of age.
Offensive Sexual Contact. Non-consensual sexual contact that is not penetrative is a form of sexual assault known as offensive sexual contact. This includes touching the victim over their clothes (for example, groping the victim’s breast). This is charged as a Class C misdemeanor unless the defendant has prior convictions or the victim is a minor child or disabled.
Prostitution. The defendant commits prostitution by offering to engage in sexual conduct with another individual in return for receipt of a fee or anything of value. Prostitution is charged as a Class B misdemeanor, unless the defendant has prior prostitution convictions, in which case it is charged as a Class A misdemeanor or state jail felony.
Solicitation of Prostitution. The defendant commits solicitation of prostitution by asking another person to engage in sexual conduct with the defendant in exchange for a fee or something else of value. This is charged as a Class B misdemeanor unless the defendant has prior solicitation convictions.
Harassment. Harassment involves unwanted contact with the victim, and is sometimes sexual in nature. Harassment is charged as a Class B misdemeanor, unless the defendant has prior harassment charges.
Regardless of the level of sex crime you are facing, these types of charges destroy families and careers. That’s why it’s important to fight back and beat any sex crime charges against you.
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, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.