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Houston Appeals Court Rules 4-Year-Old Incapable of Committing “Prostitution”

Compelling prostitution–i.e., pimping–is one of the most serious sex crimes a person can be charged with, in Texas. Under the state’s Penal Code, compelling prostitution is a first-degree felony. In simple terms, pimping can send you to prison for the rest of your life.

There are actually two separate definitions of compelling prostitution under Section 43.05 of the Penal Code. The first is using “force, threat, coercion, or fraud” that causes another person to commit prostitution. The second is using “any means” that causes a “child younger than 18 years to commit prostitution.” So even if the defendant did not use force or threats against the child, any act that causes them to act as a prostitute is still first-degree felony pimping.

Judges Reverse Defendant’s Conviction for Compelling Prostitution, Urge Legislature to Change the Law

But how old does a child need to be before they are even capable of committing prostitution? This is not a hypothetical question. The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals here in Houston recently addressed the subject in a decision, Turley v. State, that could have significant ramifications for sex crime laws in the state. This particular case involves a defendant accused of pimping his four-year-old daughter.

As the appeals court noted, the facts of this case “are deeply disturbing.” According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendant posted a Craigslist ad entitled, “Play with Daddy’s Little Girl.” An undercover officer with the Houston Police Department replied to the ad, leading to an email exchange between him and the defendant. The officer concluded the defendant was “pimping out a small girl” under the age of six.

Eventually, the officer proposed paying the defendant $1,000 for a “meet up” with the girl. The defendant gave his daughter a “sleep aid” and placed her in an apartment. When the police arrived, they arrested the defendant and charged him with compelling prostitution and “trafficking a child based on compelling prostitution.” A jury convicted the defendant of both charges.

But the 14th District reversed the convictions and ordered the defendant’s acquittal. The legal issue here was that in order to find someone guilty of “compelling prostitution,” there must be another person capable of committing prostitution in the first place. The 14th District noted the Texas Supreme Court has previously held that “children under 14 cannot knowingly agree to engage in sexual conduct for a fee and therefore cannot commit prostitution under the juvenile justice code.” Similarly, the court, in this case, said a four-year old is incapable of committing prostitution under the Criminal Code, as written at the time of the defendant’s arrest. For this reason, the court said it was compelled to overturn the defendant’s convictions, although the judges “urged” the Texas legislature to modify the law going forward.

Speak with a Houston Sex Crimes & Sex Offenses Defense Lawyer Today

Nobody condones sex crimes involving children. But it is critical even in cases involving children for judges and prosecutors to follow the law as written, not how they wish it was written. And if you are the person charged with a sex crime, you have the right to pursue any available legal argument in your defense. If you need advice or counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today. Call (281) 280-0100.