Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student is a criminal statute that authorizes law enforcement to go after school teachers and educators who get involved with their students. Improper Relationship between Educator and Student is a relatively new law. It was added to the Texas Penal Code in 2003. The conduct has been unlawful for a while now. Indecency with a Child is a criminal statute that is similar in many respects, and has been on the books for decades. There is one crucial difference. Unlike Indecency with a Child, there is nothing in this statute that requires the student to be younger than 17 years old. This page discusses aspects of the law as well as the reality of facing and defending this criminal charge. This page is general information. If you or someone you love is facing this charge, please call me to discuss the specifics of your case. It cannot be overstated how important it is to get your defense started as early as possible.
How Much Has Technology Impacted These Cases?
If you follow local news at all, you know that these cases generate a lot of publicity and public outcry. They are heavily covered in the media. It seems like stories about teachers getting fired and prosecuted for getting involved with students are happening very often around local school districts. Smart phone technology has increased the occurrence and publicity of these cases. Many of these cases have electronic evidence. Not that long ago, it may have been easier for police to side with the teacher facing an allegation with little other evidence. Now, in the face of screen shots of text messages, it’s difficult for administrators and law enforcement to look the other way. That does not mean that there is not a fight to put up. There is. It means it is more important than ever to put up a great defense. It is important to get started early.
Are There More Improper Relationship Cases Now Than Ever Before?
It is difficult to say if teachers and students were having as many improper relationships before the smart phone era. It is certainly much easier now to communicate on many platforms, and that may be the difference. Like almost everything else that happens these days, somebody probably has smartphone video or pictures. Human nature that has not changed, of course. In the last ten years, technology has changed exponentially. With texting, twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram, educators and students have many avenues to communicate. I have had teachers tell me that it is normal for students to use smartphones in class. If you are a teacher, this is nothing new to you. One thing is certain—these days it is much easier for law enforcement to accumulate evidence (texts, pictures, videos) and build a case against you.
What is the Law?
The Improper Relationship statute is located in Section 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code. There are several ways a person can get charged. The primary effect of the crime prohibits sexual contact between employees of a primary or secondary school and a student at that same school. The statute also criminalizes sexual contact between a teacher and a student of any school in their district, and visiting students at the school. Here is the text of the statute:
21.12 Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student
(a) An employee of a public or private primary or secondary school commits an offense if the employee:
(1) engages in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with a person who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school at which the employee works;
(2) holds a certificate or permit issued as provided by Subchapter B, Chapter 21, Education Code, or is a person who is required to be licensed by a state agency as provided by Section 21.003(b), Education Code, and engages in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with a person the employee knows is:
(A) enrolled in a public primary or secondary school in the same school district as the school at which the employee works; or
(B) a student participant in an educational activity that is sponsored by a school district or a public or private primary or secondary school, if:
(i) students enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school are the primary participants in the activity; and
(ii) the employee provides education services to those participants; or
(3) engages in conduct described by Section 33.021, with a person described by Subdivision (1), or a person the employee knows is a person described by Subdivision (2)(A) or (B), regardless of the age of that person.
What is Online Solicitation of a Minor?
Subsection (a)(3) incorporates Section 33.021 Online Solicitation of a Minor into the crime of Improper Relationship between Student and Educator. This means that if a teacher at a primary or secondary school commits an online solicitation of a minor, and that minor is a student, it can be a crime under this statute. Online Solicitation of a Minor is a serious crime in its own right. Online Solicitation of a Minor means electronically communicating with a person under 17 and soliciting them with the intent to engage in sexual conduct. A charge for Online Solicitation of a Minor and Improper Relationship between Educator and Student can arise out of the same incident. Here is the language from 21.12 that tells us that:
(c) If conduct constituting an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under another section of this code, the actor may be prosecuted under either section or both sections.
What Does Sexual Contact Mean?
Section 21.12 prohibits sexual contact, sexual intercourse, and deviate sexual intercourse. These are legally defined terms. It is possible to have all three to be present within the same course of conduct. Sexual contact is the broadest legal term that Section 21.11 defines as:
any touching of the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of another person with the intent arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person
Sexual intercourse is the most limited term. Section 21.11 defines sexual intercourse as:
any penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ
Deviate sexual intercourse means either:
any contact between any part of the genitals of one person and the mouth or anus of another person; or
the penetration of the genitals or the anus of another person with an object
Is There a Defense Based on the Age of the Parties?
Yes, there are defenses in this statute regarding the age of the parties. These laws are called Romeo and Juliet laws. The Romeo and Juliet laws were enacted in response to protect children from getting prosecuted for having sex with other children provided they are three or less years apart in age. The Romeo and Juliet laws primarily apply to Indecency with a Child, however it can also apply to the Improper Relationship statute to bar criminal prosecution. In this case, the teacher would have to be very young, and the student very old to qualify:
(b-1) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that:
(2) the actor was not more than three years older than the enrolled person and, at the time of the offense, the actor and the enrolled person were in a relationship that began before the actor’s employment at a public or private primary or secondary school
This is an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense means that the defendant is admitting the conduct that would otherwise be unlawful, but justifying it for a legally authorized reason. In this case, the law allows for people who are within three years of age of each other to have a relationship, provided that the relationship began prior to the defendant’s employment at the school.
What are the Penalties?
If convicted for Improper Relationship between Educator and Student, a person will be sentenced according to the punishments associated with a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony carries a range of punishment between two and twenty years in the Texas Department of Corrections, and up to a $10,000 fine.