Texas Sexting Laws for Teens and Minors
The rapid development of smartphone cameras and digital communication created new challenges. One of those is the exchange of explicit material, often called sexting. This can include sending nude, sexually suggestive, or sexually explicit images across any digital media, including text messages, social media, or email.
While it’s widely assumed that sexting is more common among minors and teens, a survey by the American Psychological Association found that 80 percent of adults had reported sexting within the past year. This has significant implications when you consider the case of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was sentenced for sexting with a 15-year-old girl he claims he never met.
Sexting Between Minors or Teens
Under Texas law, it is not considered a crime when sexual communication occurs between two consenting adults who agree to share sexually explicit material. The law also covers transmitting digital images of minors and teens in Texas Penal Code §43.261.
Under this section of the law, it is illegal for a minor to deliberately send an electronic image of sexual conduct of minors to other minors. It’s also unlawful to possess images of minors in sexual conduct when the minor who possesses the image either produces the material or knows a minor who did.
Another distinction under Texas law is that while age 18 is considered a legal adult, in Texas, the age of consent is 17. This means that teens at the age of 17 have the legal right to consent to sexual activity.
If a 17-year-old is dating an individual within two years of their age, they can also send sexually explicit images as long as those images are not shared with anyone else. However, if a 17-year-old is dating an adult aged 20 or older, sexting is a crime for the adult and the teenager.
Sexting and Cyberbullying
The act of sending sexually explicit images across digital communication can also cross the line into cyberbullying. Stricter laws were passed in 2017 when the governor signed David’s law into law. This allows school districts, prosecutors, and police to work together to fight cyberbullying.
The penalty for a first sexting offense is a Class C misdemeanor. However, that can be upgraded to a Class B misdemeanor when it’s proven that the images were sent with the intent to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another.” In other words, cyberbullying.
If the individual charged with sexting has been convicted one or more times before, the individual will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. A second charge may be applied if it can be shown that the sexual images were sent without the express consent of the recipient.
If sexually explicit images are shared beyond two people without the express consent of the person in the image, Texas Penal Code Section 21.16 upgrades the penalty to a state jail felony under what is commonly called the “Revenge Porn Statute.”
Texas Penal Code 43.26 also covers an adult sexting with a minor. This becomes a felony crime when an adult knowingly possesses or accesses sexually explicit images of a minor under 18.
The penalties for a Class C misdemeanor when two minors exchange explicit images include a fine of up to $500, probation or community service, and a mandatory education course about the dangers of sexting. Both the minor and the parent must attend this course.
First-time offenders have the option of having their record expunged after they turn 18 and will not have to register as a sex offender. However, individuals who have a second offense or more and those who are 18 and over do not have these options.
When to Call a Sexting Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or your child have been arrested or charged with sexting with a minor or a teen in Texas, it is important to have an experienced and skilled Collin County sex crime defense attorney at your side. It can be overwhelming when you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime.
Undertaking a significant legal battle requires a competent and dedicated team of attorneys who have earned a reputation for success. Our attorneys understand that every situation is unique. We take the time to listen to your story and use those details to develop a customized strategy, exploring all viable options to preserve your innocence and your freedom.
Call Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian today at (972) 369-0577 to schedule your free initial and confidential consultation. We can listen to the details of your case and answer your questions.