In Texas, the age of consent is 17. According to section 22.011(a)(2) of the Texas Penal Code, this means that it is a sexual assault to have sexual relations, including oral sex, with a person who is 16 or under. A sexual assault conviction under this law is a second-degree felony, meaning that a defendant convicted under this law faces prison time of not less than two years or more than twenty years, plus possible mandatory sex offender registration. If you or a loved one are facing charges of sexual assault in Texas, you should consult with an experienced sexual assault defense lawyer in Dallas as soon as possible.
Texas does have a “Romeo and Juliette” exception, however. This name refers, of course, to the Shakespeare play about two young lovers. It means that, in some circumstances, having sex with someone under 17 may not result in a conviction. In order for this exception to apply, the alleged victim must be at least 14-years-old, and the person accused must be no more than three years older than the alleged victim. Also, the accused must not be required to register as a sex offender or have a prior conviction for a sex offense, and the accused and the victim must not be legally prohibited from marrying because of being too closely related. So, for example, a person who is 17 can have sex with a person who is 15 without a sexual assault conviction because they are less than three years apart in age, if the other requirements are met.
What happens, however, if the accused did not know how young the alleged victim was? Unfortunately, Texas law does not require proof that the accused knows the age of the other person. This means that a belief that the alleged victim was older than the person’s real age is not a defense. Nor is it a defense that the alleged victim consented to the sexual activity.
However, the facts of a case can make a big difference. In some situations, a prosecutor could decide not to charge sexual assault or might be willing to reduce the charge, if the facts show that the accused and the alleged victim were very close to three years apart and if other facts show that the accused does not deserve the law’s harsh consequences. Also, sympathetic facts can make a big difference as far as plea bargaining for a just punishment.
If you or a loved one is accused of sexual assault or statutory rape in Texas based on the age of the alleged victim, it is critical to consult with an experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer who can protect the rights of the accused and fight for their best interests. This is just as true even if there is no question that sexual activity occurred and that the alleged victim is under 17 and more than three years younger than the accused. Call the Dallas Law Office of John M. Helms today to have a legal team in your corner that you can trust.
Attorney John Helms