Improper sexual relationships between students and teachers are being prosecuted more than ever across the country, and Texas is no exception. Although it may be an unfortunately commonplace occurrence, a relationship between a primary or secondary school student and an educator within the same school district the student attends is prohibited under Texas law, even if the relationship is consensual and the student is over the age of 17.
If you or someone you love who has been accused of having an improper teacher/student relationship, you need an experienced lawyer who can properly defend you against this charge. Paul Schiffer and the legal team at the Law Office of Paul Schiffer have over four decades of experience in the legal profession, including extensive experience defending against improper teacher/student relationship charges, which are very specific and highly technical. You don’t have to go through this difficult time alone, nor should you try. Contact us today to discuss your case.
What is an Improper Relationship Between a Teacher and Student?
According to Section 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code, an offense occurs when an employee of a primary or secondary school (private or public) has any kind of sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with a student enrolled in the school or district in which the educator works. An offense is also committed if the accused holds a certificate or permit from the State Board for Educator Certification program or is required to hold a license through a state agency according to the Texas Education Code has sexual contact, sexual intercourse , or deviate sexual intercourse with a student in the teachers school or district, anywhere, or the student in question is enrolled in an educational activity program that is sponsored by that employee’s school or district.
It doesn’t matter if the relationship occurs outside of school hours or off of school property. As long as the relationship occurs in Texas and the participants are active as an educator and student as outlined in the statute, there is an actionable offense. So, cautionary warning….the Senior trip out of state does NOT become a crime free zone!
The law also covers the online solicitation of a student. This is defined as any sexually explicit communication between the school employee and a student, as well as the distribution of sexually explicit material to a student via any type of electronic communication for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal.
It should be noted that this law doesn’t apply to relationships involving post-secondary schools. In these cases, college and universities tend to have their own rules and guidelines regarding educator and student relationships. These relationships aren’t considered crimes under Texas law.
Actions Not Considered an Offense
While sexual contact, sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse, and electronic sexually explicit communication are offenses under this law, there are actions between an educator and a student that can exist without rising to the level of the offense of an improper relationship. For example, as long as the actions don’t escalate to a proscribed offense by becoming sexual in nature, non-sexual communication including private phone calls and spending time privately together outside of school aren’t considered a crime. However, these things may be used later as evidence if an offense is committed. It should also be noted that these actions might be against the code of conduct of the school or school district, and that the educator may find himself or herself terminable under school district rules.
Proving an Improper Relationship Between Teacher and Student
To obtain a conviction, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an employee currently working in a public or private primary or secondary school entered into a sexual relationship with a student currently enrolled in the school or within the same district. That means that the enrollment status of the student has to be proven, along with the employment status of the educator. The actual sexual contact or online solicitation also must be proven. If there are any other charges along with this specific one, those will also need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you’re convicted of having an improper relationship with a student, you face a state prison sentence ranging from two to 20 years, and fines up to $10,000. This crime is a second-degree felony. Recent cases have resulted in even first time offenders spending time in prison, despite their eligibility for probation.
Just as is the case with other second degree felonies, a conviction of an improper relationship between a student and an educator results in far-reaching consequences beyond a prison sentence. If convicted, you’ll have a searchable permanent criminal record that will show up on background checks. That can inhibit your ability to get a job, rent a home, earn or renew certain licenses or permits, and harm your social relationships with family, friends, and within in your community.
You may also find that schools will no longer wish to employ you based on your involvement with a student, regardless of whether or not you are convicted of the crime. That means that you may have to change professions in order to find gainful employment.
Sex Offender Registration
Because an improper relationship between a student and an educator is not a reportable conviction insofar as the state’s sex offender registry is concerned, if you were convicted, you would not have to register as a sex offender upon leaving prison. However, it’s possible that the court can rule otherwise, especially if you are found guilty of other crimes arising from the same event or set of events. There are also efforts currently being made to change this, so it’s possible that people convicted of this in the future can be required to register as sex offenders.
Since it is a second degree felony, this crime is serious and may result in steep penalties. It is critical to your future that you have a qualified defense lawyer like Paul Schiffer on your side, who relies not only on his knowledge of the law, but on his years of experience to craft a solid defense against the accusations made against you.
There are two notable statutory defenses against this accusation. The first is that there is no offense if you and the alleged victim were married at the time of the sexual relationship. The second is that there is no offense if the two in question are no more than three years apart in age and the relationship started prior to the educator’s having accepted employment with the school or school district.
Your defense team will also use all available evidence to form a defense. This includes securing witnesses for you, if there are any, and cross-examining the witnesses prepared to testify against you, analyzing all of the evidence, and discovering the flaws in the prosecution’s case.
Why You Need a Defense Attorney
Obtaining a conviction in an improper educator/student relationship case isn’t always easy. There are many instances where there was no sexual activity between the accused and the alleged victim, but for that imagined or claimed by the alleged victim to advance some ulterior motive. When there is no evidence of actual sexual contact, it can be difficult for a prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and obtain a conviction.
That is why you need an experienced defense attorney on your side. A qualified attorney will know exactly how to analyze your case and create a solid defense that can restore your good name and preserve your freedom.
If you find yourself facing these accusations, contact The Law Office of Paul Schiffer today. We will listen to your case, analyze it, and tell you what you should expect throughout the case. Not only do we have the experience and knowledge to help you, we’ll also help you emotionally deal with the accusations made against you. We understand that these charges can be damaging even if you are found innocent. That can be emotionally draining and stigmatizing. In our office, you’ll never be judged; you’ll always be treated with dignity and respect from the moment you contact us.
If you or a loved one has been accused of having an improper relationship between an educator and a student, contact the Law Office of Paul Schiffer by phone, email, or through our website today. Don’t try to fight this fight alone. Get in touch with our team and start building your defense today.
How has Paul Schiffer Successfully Defended Cases of this Kind?
That’s a great question, but you won’t find the answer here. While there is nothing inherently secret about a great defense, some attorneys are simply better prepared, more creative, and more experienced than others. It’s that combination that makes Paul Schiffer successful in defending these cases. A professional sports team, or an army preparing for battle, doesn’t disclose its strategy to the opposition. It is only through a confidential, in-person, meeting with Paul Schiffer, where your information is protected by the attorney-client privilege, that he will discuss potential strategies that are tailored to your circumstances. Call today to set up a meeting with Paul in his office. Be sure to bring any paperwork or other information you have about your case or an investigation.