The intersection between technology and the law becomes more significant every day, with online sex crimes being punished as severely as those that happen offline. Even an accusation of an online sex crime can profoundly impact your personal and professional life, tarnishing your reputation, straining relationships, jeopardizing employment opportunities, and resulting in significant emotional distress. Understandably, such accusations can be overwhelming, creating a cloud of anxiety and uncertainty about the future.
If you or someone you know is facing such accusations in Texas, it’s crucial to be aware of the specific nature and penalties of the crime in question. In this blog, we will shed light on various Texas online sex crimes, from child pornography possession to cyberstalking, and the legal consequences associated with each, which often include registration as a sex offender.
Online Solicitation of a Minor
18 U.S.C. 2422 and 8 U.S.C. 2423 make it illegal to use the internet to knowingly coerce, lure, or persuade anyone under 18 to participate in prostitution or any criminal sexual activities. It’s also illegal to:
- Persuade or entice a minor to cross, or try to cross, state lines to meet for sexual purposes. Penalties include fines and 10 years to life in prison.
- Cross state or international lines yourself to meet a minor for illicit sexual activities. Penalties include fines, up to 30 years in prison, or both.
At the state level, Texas Penal Code Sec. 33.021 classifies online solicitation of a minor as deliberately contacting a minor online while intending to meet and participate in sexual activities. In Texas, a minor refers to anyone under 17. This offense is a third-degree felony, with penalties including a prison sentence of up to 10 years and potential fines of up to $10,000. If the minor involved is under 14, the offense is upgraded to a second-degree felony, with imprisonment lasting up to 20 years.
Possession or Distribution of Child Pornography
Possession of child pornography is defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2252 as the illegal possession of sexual media involving a minor (someone under 18 years old). This media can consist of photos, videos, and sometimes written materials. It’s important to note that merely searching for such content signals an intent to view or possess, making it an offense.
Convictions for intentional possession can lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years. If the depicted minor is below 12 years old, or if the offender distributes the material to others, penalties are further intensified: if someone is convicted of receiving or distributing child pornography, the prison sentence for a first offense ranges from five to 20 years. A second conviction comes with a minimum prison sentence of 15 years but the sentence can extend up to 40 years in some cases.
Sexting refers to the act of sending suggestive or sexual images or videos. Under Texas Penal Code Section § 43.261, minors are prohibited from sending such content to or receiving it from fellow minors. If an adult sends or receives explicit content involving a minor, they can face charges of possessing or promoting child pornography or promoting sexual performance by a minor.
Sexting between minors is typically a class C misdemeanor, which can lead to a fine of up to $500, but in some cases, the charge can escalate to either a class B or class A misdemeanor. A conviction on these higher charges can result in a jail term of up to one year in a Texas county jail and a potential fine of up to $4,000. Repeat offenses or more serious cases might elevate the crime to child pornography charges.
Grooming and Online Enticement
Grooming is the deliberate act of building a relationship with a minor with the intent of subjecting them to sexual abuse or trafficking. Child grooming is already a federal crime, officially classified as “coercion and enticement,” with penalties ranging from 10 years to life in prison.
Last spring, Senate Bill 1527 introduced new anti-grooming provisions into Texas Internet laws. It took effect on September 1, 2023 and impacts any adult who:
- Intentionally coerces, lures, induces, or tries to persuade a child under 18 to participate in sexual behavior.
- Engages in a sexual act with the child.
- Involves the child in a sexual crime.
Those found guilty of child grooming under this legislation are charged with a third-degree felony. A conviction can result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Cyberstalking and Online Harassment
Under Texas Penal Code 42.072, stalking occurs when an individual knowingly engages in behavior that another person would perceive as threatening, and that would cause a reasonably fearful reaction. First offenders are charged with a third-degree felony- if convicted, the penalties can include imprisonment for up to 10 years and fines up to $10,000. For those with prior stalking convictions, the charge escalates to a second-degree felony, which can result in up to 20 years in prison and fines reaching $10,000.
Examples of online harassment include:
- Abusive behavior on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
- Constantly monitoring the victim’s online activities.
- Urging others to harass the victim.
The Importance of Rehabilitation and Support for All Involved in Online Sex Crimes
There’s no denying that many individuals are wrongly accused of Texas online sex crimes. The consequences of such accusations can be severe, affecting one’s personal, professional, and emotional life. This underscores the importance of a robust legal defense and a fair judicial process.
For those genuinely involved in internet sex crimes, it’s crucial to seek rehabilitation. The reasons individuals might participate in these activities can be complex, often rooted in past trauma, addiction, or other psychological issues. Rehabilitation programs can address these root causes, offering therapy and counseling to help individuals understand and change their behaviors.
Victims of online sex crimes can face a myriad of emotional and psychological challenges. They deserve support in the form of counseling, therapy, and other resources to help them heal and regain control over their lives.
It’s equally vital to focus on prevention to reduce the occurrence of future offenses. Education on internet safety, awareness campaigns, and community support programs can be beneficial in ensuring fewer people fall victim or become involved in these crimes.
Are You Under Investigation for an Online Sex Crime? Call a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer!
If you’re facing online sex crime charges in Texas, consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney should be your immediate priority. Here’s why:
- From the moment of arrest or accusation, your rights can be at risk. A defense attorney ensures that your rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to a fair trial, are upheld throughout the legal process.
- Every case has unique facts and circumstances. An attorney will investigate the details of your situation, challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution, and develop a defense strategy tailored to your case.
- The Texas legal system can be harsh, especially for those accused of online sex crimes. Having a knowledgeable attorney by your side means you have someone to guide you through court procedures, hearings, and potential plea deals. With their negotiation skills, attorneys can sometimes negotiate with the prosecution for reduced charges or lighter penalties.
Internet sex crime charges and other violations of Texas Internet laws can have severe consequences on your future. It’s essential to have someone in your corner who understands the stakes and is dedicated to fighting for your rights and best interests. Don’t navigate this challenging time alone; call Hunter, Lane & Jampala PLLC right away. To learn more, call (210) 202-1076 or use our contact form to schedule an initial consultation today.