Can “Catfishing” Land You in Jail?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

The use of the Internet has created another world in which many people choose to hide behind their computers. Speaking with others online requires no proof that you are who you say you are. It is this ability to hide one’s identity that has led many people to partake in what is known as “catfishing,” or luring someone else into a relationship by using a false identity or persona. 

While it may seem somewhat benign, responding to someone who is catfishing you can put you in jail if you physically engage with the underage individual – whether you were aware of their true age or not. 

The Age of Consent

In Texas, an individual must be 17 to provide legal consent to engage in sexual activity with another individual. In other words, individuals under the age of 17 are unable to make such a decision under the law. Therefore even if the sexual activity was completely consensual – or even initiated by the underage person – it is considered statutory rape. 

While engaging in any type of sexual activity with anyone under the age of 17 is completely illegal, the exact age of that person can make a difference when it comes to what you could be charged with. For instance, if you engage in sexual activity with someone who is under 17 but older than 14, it is considered a second-degree felony called indecency with a child or sexual assault and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Conversely, if you engage in sexual activity with someone under the age of 14, it is considered a first-degree felony and can be punishable by up to life in person. 

But what happens when someone falsely claims that they are 17 or older and you acted based upon your belief that they were telling the truth?

Unfortunately, this is not a rare incident when it comes to communication on the Internet. Children under the age of 17 sometimes claim to be older than they are to receive the attention of an adult with whom they are communicating. 

This is a big problem in that not knowing a minor’s age is not a valid legal defense to a sex crime charge in the state of Texas. In other words, even if you did not know the minor’s true age you could still be charged with a sex crime. 

Online Solicitation of a Minor

A similar sex crime is an online solicitation of a minor. State law holds that it is a third-degree felony to solicit a minor online to engage in sexual activity. Such a crime may be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Sometimes undercover police officers pretend to be minors to catch individuals looking to solicit minors for sexual activity. 

There are various defenses to these charges. It’s important to note that under Texas’ “Romeo and Juliet Law,” the charge may be dropped if the older individual of the two engaged in sexual activity is no more than 3 years older than the other who is at least 15. 

The Attorneys at Ceja Law Firm Help Those in Houston Who Have Been Charged with a Sex Crime

If you have been charged with a sex crime in Texas, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney.

At Ceja Law Firm PLLC, we understand the repercussions that such a serious criminal charge and conviction can have on your life. That’s why we will work to help you obtain the best possible outcome. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.