Are you facing a charge of having sex with a minor under the age of 17?

If you have, it is essential to understand that this is a serious felony that could, if you are convicted, result in significant penalties, including years in prison. In addition, a statutory rape charge can have a lasting effect on your reputation in the community and can even affect your future employment options.

Your interests can best be served by consulting with an experienced Houston sex crimes lawyer, who can take the steps necessary to provide you with the best possible defense in your case. Contact the Law Office of Nathaniel Pitoniak today for a free initial consultation.

What is Statutory Rape in Texas?

When people hear the term “rape,” they generally envision a forced and/or violent sexual attack. Statutory rape, on the other hand, does not involve force or any other kind of violent behavior on the part of a defendant. It is a term commonly used to describe sexual penetration or certain types of sexual contact between an adult and a child under the age of consent, which in Texas is 17. If an adult has sex with someone under 17 but at least 14 years of age, the offense is sexual assault. This is a felony of the second degree. The potential sentence is between 2 and 20 years in prison. Other factors, including the age of the child, could lead to enhanced penalties.

What we’ve been referring to as statutory rape is defined in section 22.011(a)(2) of the Texas Penal Code. In addition to the age requirement, a charge of statutory rape requires that the prosecution prove that a person intentionally or knowingly caused;

  • penetration of the sexual organ or the anus of the child; or
  • penetration of the child’s mouth with the person’s sexual organ; or
  • contact or penetration of the child’s sexual organ with the person’s mouth, anus or sexual organ; or
  • contact between the anus of the child and the person’s mouth, sexual organ or anus; or
  • contact between the mouth of the child and the person’s anus or sexual organ.

In addition, while the law requires that your conduct in the act of penetration or contact be intentional or knowing, it does not require that you know the age of the child in order to be charged. In legal jargon, this is known as strict liability. Mistake, even in good faith, as to the age of the victim, is not a defense to a statutory rape charge in Texas.

Are There Exceptions or Defenses to the Statutory Rape Law?

While mistake as to age is not a defense, there are exceptions contained in the statutory rape law. They include the following:

  • If you are between 14 and 17, you may consent to having sexual relations with a person not more than 3 years older than you. This is sometimes referred to as a “Romeo and Juliet” law. It is designed to eliminate serious penalties being levied on teenagers who are relatively close in age if they engage in consensual sex.
  • The statutory rape law does not apply to sex between married couples.
  • The statutory rape law only applies to the specific acts mentioned in section 20.011. Not every conceivable sexual act falls within the definition of sexual assault on a minor.

Additional defenses may also exist in your case. The following examples illustrate situations where the law may apply, and where it does not:

  • Example 1. You just turned 19. Your girlfriend is 16 but will turn 17 in a few weeks. You and your girlfriend have sexual intercourse. You are not guilty of statutory rape because you fall within the Romeo and Juliet exception.
  • Example 2. Your girlfriend is 16 but tells you she is 18. She looks 18, and you have no reason to doubt her word. You are 20 years of age. Sexual intercourse with your girlfriend constitutes statutory rape.
  • Example 3. You are 20 and your girlfriend is 16. You “fool around,” and she stimulates your private parts with her hand, but there is no penetration and no contact between your respective sexual organs or other private parts, nor do you engage in oral sex. You are not guilty of statutory rape, although you may well have violated other criminal laws, such as indecency with a child.

The ages of the participants, as well as the particular acts involved, can make a huge difference in whether you may be facing a statutory rape or other sex charge.

Statutory Rape Defense Lawyer in Houston

Because of the severity of a sexual assault/statutory rape charge, you need an attorney with the experience, skills and determination to fight for you every step of the way. There are defenses and exceptions to these charges, including challenging the testimony of any witnesses, the results of any medical or scientific tests, and any other evidence sought to be used against you. Remember that you are innocent unless the prosecution proves every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

As a former prosecutor and as a sex crimes defense attorney, Nathaniel Pitoniak has a unique insight into the structure of the state’s case, and where potential weaknesses may be found. Call for a free consultation.