What are the laws and penalties for having sex in public?
There are several laws that describe the consequences of having sex in public in the state of Texas. Most commonly, these convictions apply to people who have engaged in sex in public places such as:
- Parks and gardens
- Parking lots (in vehicles)
- Public bathroom
- Movie theater
- Bars and clubs
- Libraries and schools
- Store dressing rooms
- Swimming pools
If you’re found guilty of having sex in public, there will be serious, lifelong repercussions. A sex crime conviction has long-lasting consequences. You may be required to register on the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry, serve jail time, submit to community supervision (probation), perform community service, or face additional criminal penalties.
In addition, such a charge can have a long-term negative impact on your finances, reputation and freedom to pursue education and housing.
You owe it to yourself to fight the charge.
Have you been charged with public lewdness or indecent exposure? You owe it to yourself to hire aggressive legal representation. Attorney Matthew Sharp will fight to protect your rights and get you the best results possible. Contact his office today.
Laws that Apply to Sex in Public in Texas
Texas Penal Code Title 5, Chapter 21 defines sexual offenses in Texas:
Public lewdness, defined by § 21.07, is a sex crime in Texas that prohibits sexually explicit actions that may be seen by other non-participating persons. Public lewdness often occurs when two people perform a consensual sexual activity with each other in a public place where other persons can see the event. State prosecutors may also charge an individual with public lewdness if he or she is in an inappropriate place for sex.
Public lewdness may be charged in addition to or in conjunction with other sexual offenses like indecent exposure. Typically, when a party has sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse including anal or oral intercourse with another person in public, or if he or she has sexual contact with an animal in a public place, he or she may be charged with public lewdness in Texas.
Indecent exposure, defined by § 21.08, occurs when an individual exposes the anus or genitals with the intention of arousing or sexually gratifying a person in a reckless manner. That is, the alleged perpetrator doesn’t care if another person present might be alarmed or offended by the action. Even if the act is consensual behavior, indecent exposure may be charged because an alarmed or offended person present doesn’t consent.
HIV exposure and compelled testing, defined by Crim. Proc. § 21.31, concerns victims of alleged sexual offenders’ right to compel the assailant to HIV/AIDS testing. If an individual is indicted for/waives indictment for an offense defined by § 21.02, § 21.11 (a 1), § 22.011, or § 22.021 of the Tex. Ann. Penal Code, the court or victim may require that the offender obtains testing for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The person may willingly submit or be required to submit to testing. Results of testing are sent to the victim.
If convicted of public lewdness, a Class A misdemeanor, penalties range from a small fine to jail time of up to one year plus a $4,000 fine. If convicted of public lewdness, the offender may be required to register as a sex offender on the Public Sex Offender Registry for a specific time period. The convict may be eligible for community supervision or probation.
Having sex in public is a serious crime in the state. If you’re required to register as a Texas sex offender, you can lose a good job, forfeit the right to federal student aid, or be required to move (such as if your home is close to a public park where children play). If you’re facing the risk of a sex offender conviction, contact an experienced attorney immediately.
An indecent exposure conviction carries a Class B misdemeanor that’s punishable by a six-month jail sentence plus a $2,000 fine.
If found guilty of § 42.01, disorderly conduct (a crime relating to consensual sex acts), a Class C misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $500.
If You Get Caught Having Sex in Public, Are You a Sex Offender?
Generally, people who are convicted of public lewdness for having sex in public are not required to register as a sex offender for their first offense. However, this may be determined on a case-by-case basis.
For instance, if a person has been convicted of public lewdness multiple times, they may be required to register as a sex offender. This is the case even if each charge involved a consenting adult partner. Or, in some cases, if a child witnesses your public sex act, a conviction may result in you having to register as a sex offender.
Make no mistake that the legal consequences of such a charge are still quite serious regardless, which is why it’s vital you seek professional legal counsel from an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.
When charged with a public sex offense in Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to build a case on the facts. Your criminal defense attorney may use some of the following legal defenses, such as:
- Intoxication. If you were intoxicated when the occurrence happened, your defense attorney might present intoxication as a mitigating factor if this is the first offense.
- Duress. If you were threatened with bodily harm (if you wouldn’t commit sexual contact with him or her), your criminal defense counsel may argue that you were under duress to do so. Your attorney will seek to reduce the charges or get the charges dropped.
- Lack of knowledge. Circumstances of the arrest may prompt the defense attorney to argue that you weren’t aware of the law. For instance, if you are charged with public lewdness even though you’re in a vehicle with closed doors and were fully dressed—and no reasonable person would be offended by the manner in which you present—you may have a legal defense against a charge of public lewdness or indecent exposure. You weren’t reckless as described by § 6.03 of Texas Ann. Penal Code. A high risk of discovery wasn’t present.
- Public place questions. Alternatively, if you didn’t know the place in which you had sex was a public place, it may be possible to argue that you didn’t knowingly engage in a public sex offense. The law says you must knowingly perform a public sex act to commit the crime.
Public place, defined by § 1.07 of Texas Ann. Penal Code, is a place to which the entire public or a significant part of the public has access. For that reason, if your apartment is gated and only residents may enter, the public may have access to the parking lot or other common areas. If you have sex in a car in the parking lot, you’re in a public area and it’s still possible to be charged with a public sex offense.
Additional legal considerations may apply to a public sex case.
- When the incident occurred matters. For instance, a public sex incident is most likely to happen at night. If that’s the case, the alleged perpetrator may also be charged with trespassing or violation of other local ordinances. For instance, if a couple is having sex in a public park, it’s possible for them to receive more fines and citations if they were having sex in the public park at night.
- The location of the incident matters. If you’re caught having public sex within the vicinity of a school, you are likely to suffer harsher punishments because young children were nearby. An incident of indecent exposure that involves young children or minors may be more harshly punished if the defendant is convicted.
- Your criminal record matters. Penalties are much more likely to increase in severity for repeat offenders. However, a first-time offender may receive the option to plead to a lesser offense with the court. Engaging an experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney can improve your chances of getting reduced or dropped charges.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
If you’re charged with a public sex offense in Texas, recognize this isn’t a DIY matter. Discuss your case with The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp if you have questions and concerns about a Houston city or Harris County public sex crime charge. In some cases, it is possible to avoid a jail sentence by performing community service and paying a fine. Most defendants agree that this outcome is more positive than spending a minute behind bars.