Statutory rape is unlike most other sex crimes in California. Most sexually-based offenses involve situations where one person forces another person to engage in sexual activity against his or her will. Statutory rape, however, does not necessarily have to follow this same pattern. In fact, the sexual behavior at the very center of statutory rape cases often involves two willing and mutually-agreeable individuals. However, the simple fact that one or more of those individuals is a minor complicates matters.
Age of Consent
The crime of statutory rape has little to do with a person’s state of mind, and rather the age of the sexual participants. The age of consent in California is 18. This means that no one under the age of 18 can legally consent to engage in sexual activity. In fact, the fact that a minor directly or indirectly agrees to have sex is irrelevant in a statutory rape case. Minors simply cannot consent to have sex. Anything they say or do that indicates agreement isn’t valid in the eyes of the law.
Defending Statutory Rape
Statutory rape is only a crime if one or more of the individuals involved in the sexual act was a minor. If everyone was at least 18 years old at the time you had sex, you cannot be punished for engaging in willful and consensual sexual conduct.
Example: Sue is 17 and Joe is 19. They have sex. Joe is arrested and charged with statutory rape. Sue later finds out that her parents lied to her about her age, and that she is actually one year older than she believed. Since Sue was actually 18 at the time she had sex with Joe, he cannot be convicted of statutory rape in California.
Reasonable Mistake of Age
While mistake of age is not the best defense to statutory rape, some courts and juries may be open to considering the argument. If you have proof that you reasonably believed that a person was at least 18-years-old when you had sex with them, you may be able to escape criminal liability for your actions.
Example: Joe, who is 21, meets Sally in a neighborhood bar late one night. The bar is well-known for its strict carding policy and is notoriously difficult to sneak into if you’re underage. Sally, who is actually 17, tells Joe that she is also 21. They hit it off and head back to his place for the night. Sally’s parents find out that she and Joe had sex and demand that he be arrested for statutory rape. Joe may be able to avoid a penalty for his actions because he reasonably and honestly believed that she was over the age of 18. The fact that she was also in the bar, which is known for keeping minors out, will be helpful in proving his reasonableness defense.
You can only be convicted of statutory rape if you actually had sex with a person under the age of 18. While other crimes may be applicable to other sexual activities, statutory rape should not be on the table. Many times, these cases lack physical evidence to show that sexual intercourse ever happened. As a result, they typically come down to he-said, she-said disputes. It will be important to gather as much evidence as possible to show that no sexual intercourse ever happened.
Example: Alex and Sam, both 16, recently broke up. Alex, upset by the fact that Sam has already started dating someone else, starts a rumor that Sam forced himself on her before they split. Sam is arrested for statutory rape. He has been falsely accused and must gather evidence to support his defense. His attorney secures testimony from many other students at the school who know both parties very well and can confirm that Alex (a) has a temper (b) is mad that Sam has a new girlfriend, and (c) has made up similar rumors in the past.
There is one defense to statutory rape that will always excuse having sex with a minor: marriage. If you are married to a person who is under 18, you are legally permitted to have sex with them. California’s statutory rape laws simply don’t apply.
Example: June, who is 17, gets permission from her parents to marry Doug, who is 19. It will not be a crime for Doug and June to have sex once their marriage is legally valid in the state of California.
Need More Assistance?
Statutory rape is a serious crime. If you’ve been accused of having sex with a minor, it is important to seek legal assistance immediately. Contact the Rodriguez Law Group to schedule a free consultation with our skilled legal team.
We will thoroughly review the details of your alleged crime, determine the best defense(s), and answer any questions you have. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you protect your future from the consequences of a statutory rape conviction.