Child Grooming: Texas Penal Code §15.032

Texas Criminal Law

The Texas offense of Child Grooming attempts to criminalize the act of pampering a child with affection in order to abuse them or “traffic” them.

This law was passed in the 88th Texas Legislature and became effective September 1, 2023. This law has serious problems in the way that it was drafted, and I predict that it will be challenged on constitutional grounds.

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The problem with the legislature’s effort here is that the law – the actual words on the page – is dangerously vague and could subject child caregivers to felony criminal prosecution for engaging in normal, everyday child-rearing activities. Learn more about the ways this new statute might be challenged

The legislature also made this one complicated. Try reading the law below. It’s difficult to comprehend on a first read, and perhaps even a second read. It also has many cross-references to other sections of the penal code that regular people don’t have memorized, making it even more complicated to grasp.

Learn more about the Child Grooming offense below.

What is the current Texas law about Child Grooming?

The current Texas law defines the offense of Child Grooming in Penal Code Section §15.032 as follows:[1]

(a) A person commits an offense if, with the intent that an offense under Chapter 43 or an offense involving sexual activity, the occurrence of which would subject the actor to criminal liability under Chapter 20A, 21, or 22, be committed, the person knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces, or attempts to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce, a child younger than 18 years of age to engage in specific conduct that, under the circumstances surrounding the actor’s conduct as the actor believes them to be, would:

(1) constitute an offense under Chapter 43 or an offense involving sexual activity the occurrence of which would subject the actor to criminal liability under Chapter 20A, 21, or 22; or

(2) make the child a party to the commission of an offense described by Subdivision (1).

This offense was created by the 88th Texas Legislature in 2023,[2] effective September 1, 2023.[3]

There are several serious concerns about the way this law is drafted. For starters, there is no limitation as to what state prosecutors can characterize as an “attempt to persuade.” And because the law relies heavily on the “intent” of the person, and intent is entirely subjective, state prosecutors have an unchecked power to charge anyone they feel like prosecuting without any particular evidence

How can I be charged with Child Grooming?

You can be charged with Child Grooming if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 15.032 as described in the section above have been met.

What is the punishment for Child Grooming?

Child Grooming is punished as a third degree felony,[4] unless the actor has previously been convicted of one of the enumerated child-abuse related offenses.[5]

How might this law be challenged? What are the problems with this law?

This new statute is likely unconstitutionally broad. The law criminalizes “attempts to persuade” a child, which is powerfully ambiguous. There’s no guideline as to what “attempts to persuade” might include or not include. What some may see as a nice birthday gift, Texas prosecutors are empowered to characterize as an “attempt to persuade.” There is no requirement in the law for a “quid pro quo,” a direct proposition, or any other kind of clause that might draw a clear distinction between what is and is not actually criminal behavior.

Furthermore, the law relies heavily on the intent of the person charged. Criminalizing otherwise completely normal behavior like purchasing gifts for kids and relying merely on subjective intent is a recipe for a recklessly overbroad law that gives a select few state prosecutors the power to imprison people without any evidence of wrongdoing.

^1. Texas Penal Code §15.032^2. SB 1527, 88th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 6.01^3. SB 1527, 88th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 7.01^4. Texas Penal Code §15.032(b)^5. Texas Penal Code §15.032(b)(1)-(5)

Child Grooming | Penal Code 15.032 text with Texas and American Flag in background

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