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Understanding Consent and Sexual Assault Laws in Texas

Render illustration of Sexual Assault title on Legal Documents with a gavel.

In Texas and throughout the nation, the concept of consent plays a crucial role with regard to sexual assault charges. Sexual assault is unlike many other crimes because the same act can be either legal or criminal purely depending on consent.

If you find yourself facing sexual assault charges or any other related charges in Montgomery County, TX, you need to take them seriously. The ramifications of such a conviction can extend far beyond the physical bounds of incarceration and alter the course of your life. A conviction for sexual assault can have profound and lasting consequences, potentially resulting in a lengthy prison sentence and a subsequent requirement to register as a sex offender.

If you are facing sexual assault charges in Montgomery County, TX, The Webb Firm, P.C. is here to help. To see how an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist with your case, contact us today to review your potential options.

What is considered sexual assault in Texas?

The charge of sexual assault encompasses instances of intentional or knowing penetration or touch of another individual in a sexual manner without their consent, or inducing another person to engage in such actions.

Consent is a critical aspect of these allegations, and any sexual act committed without it may result in charges of sexual assault. However, the issue of consent is nuanced and may not always be reduced to a straightforward yes or no response from the affected party.

To legally engage in sexual activity, the individual granting consent must have reached the age of consent, which is generally 17 years old in Texas. This means that, in most circumstances, anyone age 17 has the right to grant consent for sexual acts with another person who is also 17, given their mutual willingness to do so.

What are "Romeo & Juliet" laws?

Texas law acknowledges consensual sexual activity among young individuals who are closely matched in age, a circumstance often referred to as the Romeo and Juliet laws. For example, in Texas, if a couple is within three years of each other's age and the younger of the two is at least 14 years old, sexual assault charges will not be pursued provided both parties consented to the sexual encounter. However, it is illegal to engage in sexual activity with a child under 14, regardless of consent.

Federal jurisdiction in sexual assault cases

The age of consent under federal law is 18, and federal jurisdiction may apply in certain circumstances. For instance, if either party travels across state lines to engage in sexual activity or if the encounter is facilitated through online communication, federal law governs. This includes the exchange of sexually explicit material or communications through electronic means.

It is important to note that a person's belief about a child's age is not a defense against the charge of sexual assault if the child is under the age of consent. This holds true even if the accused believed the child was older due to credible misrepresentation or reasonable assumptions. Sexual activity with a minor who is unable to provide consent is a violation of the law.

Situations in which consent cannot be given

The legal definition of consent is a nuanced concept, and certain situations dictate that it is always absent, including:

  • Forced Consent: If physical force, violence, or coercion is used to gain consent, the law does not consider it valid. Forcing someone into sexual activity through the use of physical means or through the use of threats, taunts, or any other form of coercion, is illegal.
  • Threats of Physical Force: Threatening to use physical force or violence to obtain consent carries the same legal consequences as actually using such means. If the victim reasonably fears for their safety, the charges could be elevated to aggravated assault, which carries a potential life sentence in prison. Additionally, using threats against a third party to gain consent is considered coercion and is also illegal.
  • Unconscious Persons: In Texas, sexual activity with a person who is unconscious is illegal, regardless of the circumstances. This includes cases where the person became unconscious through their own actions, such as excessive drinking. Sexual contact with someone who is sleeping or impaired to the point of being unable to provide meaningful consent is also considered sexual assault.
  • Mental Incapacity: If the person providing consent has a mental disease or defect that affects their ability to understand and/or resist the sexual act, their consent is not considered valid.
  • Power Imbalance: If the accused is in a position of power over the other person, it can influence the element of consent and lead to sexual assault charges.
  • Mental Health Professionals: A mental health professional who exploits a patient's emotional dependence to obtain consent for sexual activity is committing sexual assault, as their consent is not valid.
  • Residential Facility Employees: A resident in a residential facility cannot legally consent to sexual activity with an employee of the facility unless the two are married.
  • Teachers: Teachers at all levels, including high school, are prohibited from engaging in sexual activity with students of any age, even if the student has reached the age of consent.
  • Public Servants: If a public servant uses their position of authority to obtain consent, they could face sexual assault charges.
  • Spouses: There is often confusion about whether the same laws apply to spouses. In reality, there is no legal distinction, and without consent, a charge of sexual assault can be brought against anyone, including spouses. Regardless of their relationship, all individuals have the same legal rights regarding consent.

If charged with sexual assault, a defendant has the right to choose whether to be tried by a judge or a jury, with guidance from their criminal defense attorney. Concerning potential sentences, probation may be an option for those without prior convictions, but the specific requirements and limitations vary.

The sentencing range for sexual assault convictions varies depending on the specific charge. Indecent assault carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail, while sexual assault can result in a sentence ranging from 2 to 20 years in prison. In the case of an aggravated assault conviction, the defendant may face anywhere from 5 to 99 years in prison.

Contact a Conroe, TX, criminal defense attorney today.

If you are facing a sexual assault charge in Texas, it is critical to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. At The Webb Firm, P.C., we can help you understand your legal rights and the potential options available to you. Our legal team will leave no stone unturned to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Don't wait - contact The Webb Firm, P.C. today and put your trust in our law firm to guide you through this challenging time.

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