Sexting an image of a minor—someone younger than 18—can result in serious penalties. In Texas, the penalties will primarily depend on whether the defendant is a minor or adult, among other factors. Read on to learn more about sexting laws in Texas.
"Sexting" is the sending of nude or sexually suggestive images electronically, whether through text messaging, social media, chat boards, or email. Sexting has become especially common among teenagers—many of whom are minors—and can easily be used to bully or harass.
Sexting between consenting adults is legal. However, Texas law prohibits sexting between minors (younger than 18) and sexting with a minor. The toughest penalties apply when an adult sexts with a minor. When it comes to teen sexting, the laws are not as harsh. The law still prohibits teen sexting, but it gives prosecutors a charging option that allows minors to avoid a felony record and sex offender registration.
Texas punishes sexting between minors under its law against electronically transmitting sexual depictions of children. This law makes it illegal for one minor to electronically send to another minor an image (often a photo) of someone younger than 18 engaging in sexual conduct. It's also illegal for a minor to possess an electronic image of another minor engaging in sexual conduct.
The law makes it illegal to send or possess an image that shows a minor engaged in "sexual conduct." Does "sexual conduct" include a nude photo? It does. The law defines sexual conduct broadly to include sexual intercourse, masturbation, or the lewd exhibition of the genitals, anus, or female breast with the nipple.
Depending on the circumstances, minors in a dating or marital relationship who privately share their images (only with each other) might also have a defense from prosecution. This limited defense only applies if:
The law provides a defense for a minor who receives an unsolicited sext if the minor destroys the image within a reasonable amount of time.
Penalties for sexting between minors range from a class C to a class A misdemeanor in Texas. A class C misdemeanor carries up to a $500 fine, while a class A misdemeanor can be punished by a year's jail time and a $4,000 fine. The severity of the penalty increases for repeat convictions or if harassment or bullying was involved. Additionally, the court might require the offender to complete an education program on the dangers of sexting.
A juvenile with only one conviction for teen sexting may ask the court to expunge the record once the juvenile turns 17. (Texas law also uses the term "expunction.")
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 43.25, 43.261 (2022); Tex. Crim. Proc. Code arts. 6.10, 45.0216, 45.061 (2022); Tex. Fam. Code §§ 54.0404, 59.004 (2022).)
In Texas, it's also possible for an adult who sexts with a minor to be prosecuted for distributing sexual images to a minor, possessing or distributing child pornography, or promoting a sexual performance by a minor. These crimes are usually punished as felonies and can carry severe penalties, including sex offender registration.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.32, 43.24, -.25, -.26 (2022); Tex. Crim. Proc. Code art. 62.001 (2022).)
Texas law also makes it illegal for anyone to send unwanted sexts, regardless of the age of the sender or recipient. The law includes sending images of people engaged in sexual conduct or with exposed intimate parts. The sext is unwanted according to the law if a recipient didn't request it or clearly give consent for it to be sent. This crime is a Class C misdemeanor and can be punished by a $500 fine.
(Tex. Penal Code § 21.19 (2022).)
Any charges that stem from sexting involving minors or teens can result in very serious consequences for those involved. If you've been questioned by the police or charged with a sexting crime, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. An experienced attorney will be able to provide you with legal advice and information on the potential consequences of the charges against you. A knowledgeable lawyer can also explain issues like whether a juvenile defendant could be required to register as a sex offender.