Skip to Main Content

What You Need to Know About Misdemeanor Sexual Offenses

There are a variety of misdemeanor offenses in Texas that broadly fall within the category of sexual offenses. We are not talking about rape, sexual assault, or other violent crimes. Rather, these misdemeanors include such things as “voyeurism”–i.e., spying on someone for purses of sexual arousal or gratification–or “indecent exposure.” These crimes may seem harmless to some people, but Houston-area police and prosecutors take them quite seriously.

Court Declines to Hold “Revenge Porn” Law Unconstitutional

For example, a state appeals court recently refused to dismiss charges against a Beaumont-area man for “unlawful disclosure or promotion of intimate visual material.” This is more commonly known as “revenge porn.” Basically, it is against the law to share a photo, video, or other image of a person’s “intimate parts” without their consent. Originally classified as a Class A misdemeanor, the Texas legislature actually elevated this to a state jail felony in 2017.

This particular case, however, was tried under the prior misdemeanor statute. The facts were fairly straightforward. Prosecutors accused the defendant of sharing a photo of a woman “with her buttocks exposed” without her consent. In response, the defendant argued the Texas revenge porn statute–Section 21.16 of the Penal Code was an unconstitutional infringement of his First Amendment right to free speech. More precisely, the defendant said the law as written unfairly criminalizes “images that depict some degree of nude flesh but that are not necessarily sexually explicit.”

But as the appeals court noted in its opinion rejecting this argument, the legislature clearly intended Section 21.16 to “combat ‘a disturbing Internet trend of sexually explicit images’ being disclosed ‘without the consent of the depicted person.” While the law might conceivably cover a small amount of innocent conduct–the defense cited the case of a “grandmother who takes a picture of her granddaughter in a diaper with no shirt on and then posts the picture on social media”–the court said such examples were purely hypothetical. The court also pointed out Section 21.16 expressly requires proof that the disclosure of the visual material in question “causes harm” to the person depicted and reveal their identity.

Given all this, the court determined the revenge porn law did not threaten the “free and robust debate of public issues” protected by the First Amendment.

The appeals court further declined to consider the defendant’s argument that Section 21.16 was unconstitutional “as applied” to his specific case (as opposed to being unconstitutional in general). Such arguments needed to be raised first with the trial judge, the appeals court said.

Speak with a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

You might not think that sending a racy photograph or exposing yourself in public is that big a deal in the 21st century. But having a misdemeanor conviction on your criminal record can impact you in multiple ways–none of them good. So if you have been charged with a misdemeanor, your first step should be to contact an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who can help guide you through the process. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 .