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What are Sex Crimes in Houston, Texas?

Sex crimes in Houston, Texas, occur when a sexual act is violent or when one of the participants does not consent to the act. They are also charged and prosecuted when someone engages in sexual activity with someone legally incapable of consenting, such as a minor.

In Houston and throughout Texas, the criminal justice system is extremely harsh regarding sex charges. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors are aggressive in pursuing sex offenders, particularly sexual predators. 

Each year, the Houston Police Department(HPD) and the Harris County Sheriff's Office received numerous reports of sex offenses, including sexual assault, which is commonly referred to as rape in Texas. In 2019, 1,249 cases of sexual assault were reported in Houston, and Harris County recorded 2,495 rape (sexual assault) cases in 2020.

What are the Types of Sex Crimes in Houston, Texas?

It is illegal to engage in non-consensual or inappropriate sexual acts in Houston, Texas. The following sexual acts are forbidden under Texas law:

  • Indecent exposure and public lewdness: Indecent exposure involves exposing one's genitals or anus for the goal of pleasure or sexual enjoyment while completely disregarding the possibility of disturbing others. It could also include behaviors like "flashing" others, being shirtless in public, or public urination. This crime is deemed a class B misdemeanor. On the other hand, public lewdness, a class A misdemeanor, is charged against anyone who engages in indecent conduct in public, such as having intercourse in a park.
  • Sexual assault: This offense constitutes practically any type of non-consensual sexual contact, including sexual violence. This crime is charged as a felony offense with severe penalties.
  • Prostitution & solicitation: Texas Penal Code 43.02 makes it unlawful to exchange sexual services for payment or to solicit another person for that purpose. Hence, It is possible to be charged with prostitution if there is evidence that a sex act was sold or purchased. Solicitation is a crime that occurs when someone offers or agrees to engage in prostitution.

Other acts that are considered sex crimes include:

Consequences of a Sex Crime Conviction

Texas is well-known for its aggressive prosecution of sex offenses, particularly those committed against children. The state and all its municipalities have harsh sex crime legislation with mandatory minimum penalties and stringent monitoring for released offenders. Sentencing for sex crimes varies depending on the circumstances:

  • Class C misdemeanor carries a punishment of up to $500
  • Class B misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and fines reaching $2,000
  • Class A misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
  • State jail felony is punishable by incarceration for 180 days to two years in state jail and fines of up to $10,000.
  • Third-degree felony carries a sentence of 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $10,000.
  • Second-degree felony is punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • First-degree felony carries a sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison or life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Other sex crime repercussions in Houston include:

  • Mandatory sex offender registration
  • Limitations on where offenders can live and work
  • Restricted Internet and social media access 
  • If applicable, possible loss of custody or visitation with children.

What Crimes Require Sex Offender Registration in Houston, Texas?

A conviction for certain sex crimes in Houston necessitates registration as a sex offender. The duration of the registration varies based on the type and severity of the offense. In many adult sex offense cases, offenders are required to remain on the registry for the rest of their lives, while some register for a period of up to ten years.

Convictions for these crimes require lifetime sex offender registration:

  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Coercing child prostitution
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child
  • Continuous child or human trafficking
  • Child trafficking involving a sex crime
  • Incest
  • Indecency with a child
  • Kidnapping and unlawful restraint of a minor under 17
  • Multiple convictions of indecent exposure
  • Possession, production, and distribution of child pornography or obscene material of a minor under 18
  • Sexual assault.

A conviction for any of these offenses will trigger a 10-year sex-offender registration:

  • Conspiracy and attempt to commit a registrable sex crime
  • A first conviction for indecent exposure involving a minor
  • Bestiality
  • Statutory rape of a child under the age of 17
  • Indecent exposure involving an adult (second offense)
  • Prostitution
  • Online solicitation of a minor.

According to the National Sex Offender Registration and Notification System (SORNA), sex offenders must register and update sex offender registration details regarding their residential location, school attendance, current employment, and other related personal information. Consequently, Texas has sex registration laws to keep sex offenders under constant watch.

A person is usually obliged to register with the Texas Sex Offender Registration Program after being convicted of a sex crime in Houston. Failure to register is a separate felony. The requirement implies that the individual is qualified for the statewide sex offender registry maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety(DPS). The register is a centralized database that allows state residents to search for a sex offender's personal and criminal history information. 

Users can use location and name to search the database. A successful search for a registered sex offender should yield the following results:

  • Offender's full name and known aliases
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Photograph
  • Physical description 
  • Offender's risk level.

The registry assigns registered criminals to one of three risk levels: low risk, moderate risk, or high risk, based on the danger they pose to the public. Low-risk offenders are thought to be unlikely to offend again, but high-risk offenders are likely to conduct a sexual offense in the future. In general, the risk assessment determines the offender's duration on the registry and how they are treated when released into society.

The Houston Police Department also maintains a separate local database where anyone can enter their addresses, and the map will show them registered sex offenders in their vicinity. Local law enforcement authorities also use the register to monitor offenders. Currently, about 6,000 sex offenders are registered in Houston.

What is a Sex Crimes Defense Attorney?

A sex crime attorney represents clients accused of illegal sexual conduct. They handle many cases, including sexual assault, child molestation, internet sex crimes, etc. An experienced sex crimes lawyer can help safeguard the defendant's rights and privacy throughout prosecution while advising them on conducts that could jeopardize their case.

Because the penalties associated with sex crime convictions in Houston are typically severe, it is in the accused's best interests to retain the services of a skilled and experienced sex crimes defense attorney.

The following are some of the fundamental actions that sex crimes attorneys perform to significantly impact a defendant's experience within the criminal justice system:

  • Ascertain that the arrest was lawful and that the police performed the arrest and booking procedures correctly
  • Assess the strength of the prosecution's evidence and the likelihood of the defendant's conviction
  • If the defendant is innocent and has been falsely charged, a sex crimes attorney can obtain the crucial evidence required to prove innocence and evade unjust consequences.

Moreover, sex crimes attorneys understand how the prosecutor's office will handle a sex crime case and use the available evidence against the defendant. As such, the lawyer will examine the evidence and devise a defense strategy, which may involve requesting the charges to be withdrawn, negotiating a plea bargain, or even contesting the allegations in court.

How does a Sex Crime Defense Attorney Work?

A sex crimes attorney will actively defend an accused at all stages of the legal process and may successfully defeat the allegations in court. There are various viable defenses to sex crime charges. Some of them include:

  • Consent

Numerous sex offenses in Houston involve non-consensual sexual contact with another person. A skilled sex crimes defense attorney can help the accused fight sex crime claims by presenting proof demonstrating the alleged victim's consent. However, consent is not a defense to every sex offense. According to state law, a person under the age of 17 cannot consent to sexual activity in Texas. As a result, this argument cannot be used in cases where the victim is a child.

  • False allegations

Allegations based on falsified or misunderstood information about an intimate relationship between the accuser and the accused. A reasonable attorney can fight to establish a defendant's innocence and win the case by using sound arguments, evidence, and witness testimony.

  • Mistake in identification

This defense may protect the accused when the wrong person is charged with a crime. In this case, the defendant has the opportunity to prove their innocence and establish a case of mistaken identity. The possibility of proving mistaken identity is heavily dependent on how the accused was initially identified. When it comes to sex offense cases, DNA evidence is the most commonly used to demonstrate factual innocence. If it can be proven that the DNA evidence obtained at the scene or on the victim does not match the accused’s.

Individuals who have been accused of committing sex crimes should be aware that the allegations can be just as harmful as being convicted, even if they are found not guilty in court. Seeking legal assistance is paramount.