Skip to Main Content

Is it a Crime in Texas for a High School Teacher to Sleep With a Student?

When in comes to sex crimes in Texas, the nature of the relationship between the defendant and the victim matters. For example, the Texas Penal Code contains special provisions for cases involving an “improper relationship between educator and student.” In other words, if a teacher is having sex with a student at the school they work at, the teacher can be charged with a second-degree felony. If convicted, the teacher faces a potential maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Ban on Student-Teacher Sex Does Not Violate Constitution

Recently, an appeals court here in Houston considered whether this law–which specifically targets educator-student relationships–violates a defendant’s constitutional rights. The defendant worked as a girls’ soccer coach at high school in Harris County. During his employment, he had a number of “clandestine hotel encounters and an intimate sexual relationship” with a 17-year-old student on the soccer team.

Although the defendant and the student initially denied having a relationship, a police investigation eventually uncovered the truth. The defendant was charged with having an improper relationship between educator and student. Under an agreement with the prosecution, the defendant pleaded guilty and received a 15-year prison sentence.

The defendant later moved for a new trial, arguing the law violated his due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. In an April 6 opinion, the Texas 1st District Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s constitutional arguments and affirmed his conviction.

The appeals court said the criminal ban on student-teacher sexual relationships “furthers a legitimate state interest,” namely “providing a safe environment free of coercive sexual conduct,” especially in the social context of a public school, where students are legally required to attend. The court also cited evidence in this case that the “sexualized power dynamic adversely affected the student in this case: she withdrew from school for a period, suffered from suicidal thoughts, and required psychiatric treatment.”

The defendant pointed to Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Texas’ criminal ban on homosexual activity among adults. The defendant said that decision protected the right of adults to engage “in private, consensual sexual conduct” with a person who has reached the age of consent, including the student in this case, who was 17 at the time.

The 1st District did not read Lawrence that way. Indeed, the Supreme Court expressly said its decision did not extend to sexual conduct with “persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not be easily refused.” The 1st District said that included educator-student relationships.

Have You Been Charged With a Sex Crime in Houston, Galveston, or League City?

Any kind of sex crimes charge can have a major negative impact on your life. In addition to any prison time, a conviction will require you to register as a sex offender, possibly for the rest of your life. This is why if you have been accused of a sex crime you need to speak with a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with an attorney today.