Texas Court Overturns Internet Sex Crime Law Involving Minors
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently overturned a provision of Texas law that criminalized electronic communications by an adult involving sexually explicit material with a minor.
To be clear, the Court had no issue with the intent of the law – to prevent adults from seeking to have sex with minors using the Internet. However, in a unanimous opinion, the court held that Texas’ law as written was “overbroad” and therefore unconstitutional. An overbroad law is one that is so broadly written that it deters protected free speech, even if the law also prevents activity that can rightfully be forbidden.
The Court held that the statute in question punishes “salacious speech over the Internet” even if the person writing or posting the content never had any intent to meet a minor for any reason. The court cited several examples of material that could be punished under the law as written, including videos of Miley Cyrus “twerking” and historically important artistic works from Shakespeare to the ancient Greek sculpture “Venus de Milo.” Many current movies and cable TV shows could also potentially violate this law as written. The First Amendment protects these works as free speech.
The court found that other state laws prevent online solicitation or harassment of a child. For example, the Texas Penal Code punishes an electronic communication to a child that “makes a comment, request, suggestion, or proposal that is obscene” and would offend children. Even if not obscene, email and text communications that are “reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend [a] child,” are already unlawful.
Texas Internet sex crimes
Proponents of First Amendment rights are celebrating the decision, which is similar to U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the issue. While Texas does have a “compelling interest” to protect children from online predators, laws must be “narrowly tailored” to meet that specific goal. In this case, the law did not meet that standard. By no means are children in the state unprotected, however. Adults who engage or attempt to engage children in sexual activities face a number of penalties, including extensive jail time. The transfer of pornography to minors and the possession or distribution of child pornography are still criminal activities that bring myriad and severe punishments.
People who have been prosecuted for an Internet sex crime which they believe is protected speech under the First Amendment should contact an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney to discuss their legal rights and options.