Child Grooming: Texas Penal Code §15.032

Texas Criminal Law

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The Texas Child Grooming law, enacted in 2023, attempts to criminalize the act of pampering a child with affection in order to abuse them or “traffic” them. However, it has serious problems in the way that it was drafted, and we predict that it will be challenged on constitutional grounds.

The problem with the legislature’s effort here is that the Child Grooming law, as written, is dangerously vague and could subject child caregivers to felony criminal prosecution for engaging in normal, everyday child-rearing activities. This law gives Texas prosecutors far too much power to decide who gets charged with this offense. Police and prosecutors have no legitimate means of distinguishing between grooming behaviors and benevolent relationships.Learn more about the ways this new statute might be challenged

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The legislature also made the law 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.

The Texas legislature codified the Child Grooming law in Texas Penal Code Section 15.032, and it went into effect September 1, 2023.

The Penal Code classifies the Texas Child Grooming law under Title 4 “Inchoate Offenses,” Chapter 15 “Preparatory Offenses.” Learn more about the Texas offense of Child Grooming below.

What is the current Texas law about Child Grooming?

Texas law currently 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 the Texas Child Grooming law was written. 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 might this law be challenged? What are the problems with this law?

This new Texas Child Grooming law is 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.

What are some of the defenses to the Child Grooming law?

Lack of Intent

To be found guilty of child grooming, the state must demonstrate that the accused had a deliberate intention to sexually abuse or exploit the child. If evidence of this intent is lacking, the defense can argue that others misinterpreted or misunderstood the accused’s actions.

In any Child Grooming case, prosecutors must establish every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence does not convincingly support one or more elements, your defense attorney can request the dismissal of the charges or present the case to a jury, aiming for a not guilty verdict.

Insufficient Evidence

Prosecutors are required to prove each element of the Child Grooming charge beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is not enough evidence to substantiate one or more elements, your defense attorney can either push to dismiss the charges or opt to go to trial and persuade a jury to deliver a not guilty verdict.

It is vital to recognize that the optimal defense strategy will vary based on the specific details of each case. It is essential to consult with a seasoned Texas defense attorney to grasp the defenses available and to formulate a robust strategy.

How can I be charged with a Child Grooming offense in Texas?

You can be charged with Child Grooming in Texas if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 15.032 as described in the section above have been met. For example, you can be charged under this law if you did anything that anyone might believe was an attempt to coerce a child (or even an adult pretending to be a child), to attend a drag show (a violation of PC §15.032).

What is the statute of limitation for Child Grooming in Texas?

Child Grooming offenses have a three-year limitations period.[4]

What is the penalty for a Texas Child Grooming offense?

Child Grooming in Texas is punished as a third degree felony, unless you have previously been convicted of one of the enumerated child-abuse related offenses.[5] If you have previously been convicted of any of the following offenses, then the state can obtain an enhancement that classifies the offense as a second degree felony.[6]

(1) Chapter 20A, if the offense involved conduct described by Section 20A.02(a)(7) or (8);

(2) Section 21.02;

(3) Section 21.11;

(4) Section 22.011, if the victim of the offense was a child under 18 years of age; or

(5) Section 22.021, if the victim of the offense was a child under 18 years of age.

Can you get probation for Child Grooming in Texas?

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows both judges and juries to grant probation for Child Grooming, and judges are also allowed to accept deferred adjudication plea deals.[7]

Note, however, that no matter the offense, neither judges nor juries may recommend community supervision for any suspended sentence of over 10 years.[8] Also, judges may not grant community supervision after a conviction if (1) the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon during the commission of the felony or immediate flight thereafter and (2) the defendant used or exhibited the deadly weapon himself or was a party to the offense and knew that a deadly weapon would be used or exhibited.[9]

Do I have to register as a sex offender in Texas if guilty of Child Grooming?

The Child Grooming offense does not appear on the list of offenses requiring registration under Chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.[10]

However, the legislature can add this offense to the list at any time. If that happens, people convicted of Child Grooming would have to register, even if the offense did not appear on the list at the time they accepted a deferred adjudication plea (even if later dismissed), pled guilty or were founty guilty.

What level of crime is Child Grooming in Texas?

Child Grooming is classified as a third degree felony unless the state proves that the defendant has a prior conviction.

Learn more about the penalty range for this offense in the section above.

^1. Texas Penal Code §15.032. This law is current as of 2024.^2. SB 1527, 88th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 6.01^3. SB 1527, 88th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 7.01^4. See Code of Criminal Procedure 12.01(9)^5. Texas Penal Code §15.032(b)^6. Texas Penal Code §15.032(b)(1)-(5)^7. See Chapter 42, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 42A.054, Art. 42A.056, Art. 42A.102 .^8. Art. 42A.053(c), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure^9. Art. 42A.054(b), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure^10. Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 62.001

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