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How Are Sex Crimes Prosecuted Under Texas and Federal Law?

A sex crime can be any illegal act that has a sexual aspect or motive. These offenses can be prosecuted under state or federal law and sometimes both. How the case proceeds depends on jurisdictional issues as well as on the specific statute alleged to have been violated.

Most sex crimes in Texas are prosecuted in state court. There are multiple sex crimes defined in the Texas Penal Code. Some involve physical contact, such as assault or nonconsensual touching, while some, such as public lewdness or indecent exposure, have only a sexual motive. Still others specifically concern children, such as online solicitation or indecency with a person under 17 years old.

A sex crime can sometimes fall under federal court jurisdiction. This typically happens when the conduct involves crossing state lines with a victim, using the internet for solicitation or distribution of child pornography or exploiting someone for prostitution across state lines. A sex crime also is federal in nature when it occurs on U.S. government property, like military bases or national parks.

Certain federal laws define child sex offenses, such as the Mann Act (prohibiting transporting someone across state lines for prostitution) or the Adam Walsh Act (protecting children from online predators). Other sex crimes prosecuted in federal court include child pornography and child sexual exploitation.

There is a significant difference in how sex crimes are punished in the Texas and federal penal systems.

The Texas Penal Code designates sex crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies of varying degrees. Judges have considerable discretion in sentencing. Generally, Texas bases punishment on offense severity and offender history. Sex crimes involving minors often carry harsh penalties, including stiffer sentences and mandatory registration as a sex offender for at least 10 years.

Federal laws set mandatory minimum sentences for certain sex crimes. For example, sex trafficking of a minor is punishable by a prison term of 10 or 15 years depending on the age of the victim. Aggravated sexual abuse of a child can draw 30 years behind bars. Additionally, once your prison term ends, sex offender registration in the federal system is usually required.

There are other differences between federal and state prosecutions. Federal prosecutors and investigators generally have greater resources than their state counterparts, potentially impacting investigative and prosecution strategies. In addition, federal courts have different rules controlling evidence admissibility and trial procedures.

Sometimes there is shared jurisdiction over sex crimes. A case might begin in federal court, then be released to state court. Similarly, a case that begins at the state level might be elevated to federal court based on details of the case and seriousness of the crime. Accordingly, anyone charged with a federal sex crime should retain a defense lawyer who has significant federal and state court experience.

The Law Offices of Kevin Collins in San Antonio represents people in southern Texas charged with sex crimes in federal or state court. Call 210-598-8629 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.

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