How to Defend Against Statutory Rape Charges
In the state of California, it’s a crime for an adult to engage in sexual relations with a minor, even if the sexual activity is consensual. This offense is known as statutory rape. Statutory rape laws were created with this purpose in mind: to prevent adults from sexually preying on or taking advantage of young people.
California Penal Code (CPC) §261.5 functions under the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. This means that even if a person under the age of 18 “consents” to sexual relations with an adult (aged 18 or older), this is still a sex crime in the state of California.
Does California Have Romeo & Juliet Laws?
While statutory rape laws are designed to protect, they can also create unfortunate circumstances for some well-meaning individuals.
For example, if two 17-year-olds are in a committed long-term relationship, but continue having sexual relations after the older partner turns 18, that person can be charged with statutory rape in California.
It’s imperative to understand that statutory rape laws apply regardless of whether the sex was consensual, as the 17-year-old partner isn’t legally permitted to give consent. Even if the two partners are in the same grade or have been dating for many years, the 18-year-old can still be charged with statutory rape in California.
However, some states honor Romeo and Juliet laws. The purpose of Romeo and Juliet laws (also known as close-in-age exemptions) is to avoid penalizing partners who are deemed close enough in age to warrant consensual sex. The legal age of consent and specific criteria to qualify for such exemptions depends on the state.
For instance, in the state of Colorado, the legal age of consent is 17. The state honors a Romeo and Juliet law permitting consensual sex between an adult and a minor who is no more than 4 years apart in age, meaning that a 17-year-old may have consensual sex with a minor as young as 13.
Unlike some states, California does not have Romeo and Juliet laws.
Penalties for Statutory Rape
While California doesn't honor close-in-age exemptions when it comes to statutory rape, the severity of penalties fluctuates in accordance with age difference. Generally, the younger the victim, the more serious the penalties. The most severe penalties typically apply when statutory rape is committed by an adult aged 21 or older with a minor aged 16 or younger.
Statutory rape is a “wobbler” offense in California, meaning that the crime can be tried as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This distinction is typically determined by extenuating factors, such as age difference and how young the victim is.
Penalties of a Felony Conviction
A felony conviction for statutory rape is punishable by some or all of the following penalties:
- 16 months to 8 years in prison
- Up to $10,000 in fines
Penalties of a Misdemeanor Conviction
A misdemeanor conviction for statutory rape is punishable by some or all of the following penalties:
- Up to 1 year in prison
- Up to $1,000 in fines
Additional penalties for statutory rape may include mandatory registration as a sex offender, community service, and lifelong status as a convicted felon. As you can imagine, such consequences can make it extremely difficult to live a normal life, as they can make it difficult to secure employment, have romantic partners, or maintain healthy familial, social, and professional relationships.
Exemptions to Statutory Rape in California
While California honors one age-based exemption for statutory rape, it’s important to understand that the exemption is not intended to dismiss the charge altogether; rather, it can reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor in certain cases.
The exemption can apply if the defendant was no more than 3 years older than the minor. In this situation, it may be possible to reduce the penalties, whether that entails fewer fines or less jail time.
Regardless, this exemption does not negate or dismiss the offense, as the act itself is still illegal under California law.
Like many states, California also honors a marital exception to statutory rape. This is a simple rule that allows married partners to engage in consensual sex, even if one partner is underage.
Common Legal Defenses Against Statutory Rape
Unfortunately, many statutory rape cases can penalize well-meaning individuals. Whether you were the first partner in a committed relationship to reach the legal age of consent or had consensual sex with a minor who lied about their age, it’s wise to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
Your lawyer can help determine the most appropriate legal strategy to employ in your defense. While there are various ways to defend against statutory rape in California, it’s imperative to turn to a trusted legal advocate first, as their legal knowledge and experience can make sure you choose the most effective one for your case.
Common defenses against statutory rape include:
- No sexual intercourse occurred. While some states classify any sexual activity as statutory, such as oral sex, fondling, or exposing genitalia, California specifically defines statutory rape as sexual intercourse. If no sexual penetration occurred, this may be a useful defense to employ on your behalf.
- Mistake in age. This defense argues that the defendant had no reason to know that the minor was underage. This can occur if the minor lies about their age. Depending on the case, this defense can be tricky to use effectively, as the defendant must prove that a “reasonable person” in the same circumstances would have also believed the minor’s lie. This strategy may also be useful if there is an absence of evidence to indicate the minor is underage, such as meeting someone on an adult dating app for users aged 18 or older.
- The minor was within 3 years of the defendant’s age. As stated above, a maximum age difference of 3 years can be an effective argument in court. However, defendants should keep in mind that this defense will not succeed in dismissing the charges, but may reduce them to a misdemeanor.
Here to Provide the Aggressive Defense You Deserve
At the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed, we know how terrifying it can be to face a criminal conviction. If you’ve been accused of a crime in Oakland or the surrounding area, you deserve an aggressive criminal defense attorney who is willing to go the extra mile for you.
Our passionate team has a proven track record of successfully restoring the rights of Californians throughout the Bay Area and East Bay Area. Whether you were wrongfully accused or simply made an honest mistake, our criminal defense firm strongly believes that each and every client deserves unrelenting legal representation and unwavering support as a defendant in a criminal case.
Being convicted of a crime can result in prison time and the loss of civil liberties, such as the right to vote and own a firearm. Fortunately, our legal team has the extensive legal experience, skills, and knowledge required to obtain a favorable outcome in court. Reach out today to learn how we can help get your charges dropped or reduced.
A criminal conviction carries harsh consequences that can follow you for the rest of your life. Turn to a firm you can trust. Call (510) 907-6600 or contact us online to discuss your case with an Oakland criminal defense attorney.