A person may legally be an adult at the age of 18, but such an age lacks significance in the criminal justice system:
Anyone 17 years and older may be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.
Most sex crimes that involved minors are strict liability crimes. This means that there is no required mens rea. Mens rea refers to what the actor intended to do or the knowledge that person had when the committed the criminal act. What this means is that even though you had no knowledge the individual was under 17 when you had consensual sex with that person, you are still guilty of the crime. This is incredibly dangerous. Many teenagers will lie about their age, have fictitious ids, or be drinking at a bar. Strict Liability means that even though the person told you they were 19 and you met her at a college party, if she turns out to be 15 you would be guilty of sexual assault of a child.
Regarding sexual assault cases, an individual under 17 years is considered a child, although anyone older than 14 years can legally consent to sexual contact. In Texas, anyone younger than 14 years cannot legally consent to sexual acts, and so, such a sexual assault to a child case would be aggravated. Sexual assault to anyone younger than 6 years would trigger a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence under aggravated sexual assault.
Regarding child pornography cases, an individual under 18 years is considered a child. The quagmire created here is that even though a 14 year old could have legal, consensual, sex with a 17 year old, the 17 year old is prohibited from having any sexual photos from that person. That is, if your partner is under the age of 18 and that person sends you a sexual photo, even though you can legally have sex with that person, you would be guilty of possession of child pornography.
Between the ages 10 and 17, children accused of sexual assault are prosecuted in the juvenile justice system. Because only children 14 years and older can legally consent, under the law, a 13 year old cannot legally engage in any sexual activity without the risk of his or her partner being prosecuted by the State. While the scenario of consensual sexual contact between two 13 years olds or a 13 year old and a 14 year old may not seem common, it can and has been tried in cases of aggravated sexual assault. After a breakup, concerned parents may seek out law enforcement in response to learning about their children’s sexual activities. Because such a situation is technically criminalized under the law, police recommend charges be filed. It is extremely important to contact a sex crime attorney immediately if parents confront you or your son or daughter about the legality of the relationship. Paul Doyle can investigate and gather vital evidence in order to create a defensible case that may initially appear to be cut and dry.