While it is a reality that many California teenagers are sexually active, according to one California court, “that fact alone does not establish that minors have a right to privacy to engage in sexual intercourse.” Thus, in the state of California, it is against the law for a legal adult – someone age 18 or older – to engage in sex with a minor – anyone below the age of 18 – even if the sex is “consensual.” Adults who break that law can be charged with statutory rape. Statutory rape laws presume that minors are incapable of consenting to have sex.
Sexual assaults may also be prosecuted under the state’s assault and battery laws and child enticement and abuse laws. However, to win a conviction in a statutory rape case, a California prosecutor does not need to prove that any assault, force, or coercion was involved – it is still rape. The penalties for a statutory rape conviction will depend, along with other factors, on the ages of the defendant and victim.
The charges considered statutory rape in California include:
- “Unlawful sexual intercourse,” intercourse between a minor who is below age 18 and a defendant of any age.
- “Unlawful oral copulation,” oral sex between a minor who is below age 18 and a defendant of any age.
- “Sexual penetration,” sexual intercourse between a minor who is 14 or 15 and a defendant who at least ten years older.
- “Lewd and lascivious acts upon a child,” any sexual contact between a minor who is age 13 or below and a defendant of any age, or sexual contact between a minor who is 14 or 15 and a defendant who at least ten years older.
Depending on the ages of the individuals who are involved and on other factors such as prior criminal convictions, a statutory rape charge may be filed and prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or as a felony in California. A misdemeanor conviction for a statutory rape charge in this state is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a term of probation.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A STATUTORY RAPE CHARGE IS A FELONY?
If the statutory rape charge is a felony charge, a conviction is punishable by up to four years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a term of probation. Some convictions for statutory rape will require a convicted defendant to register as a sex offender.
The status of sex offender can be a substantial barrier to finding employment and even housing. Most states will not permit registered sex offenders to reside in communities near schools, playgrounds, or parks.
California law allows a marital exemption so that the marriage partners of married minors are not charged and prosecuted under the statutory rape laws. Anyone who is charged with statutory rape – or with any sex crime in Southern California – will need to be represented by an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney.
Legal defenses against the charge of statutory rape include the standard defenses available to defendants in all criminal cases:
- Someone else committed the crime and the defendant has been misidentified.
- The crime was fabricated by the alleged victim and never in fact happened.
- The entire incident has been one huge misunderstanding.
Defendants who are charged with statutory rape often insist that they had no way to know that the victim was below the age of consent. Most states do not recognize a mistake of age as a valid defense against a statutory rape charge.
However, the law in California allows a mistake of age as a defense in some statutory rape cases if the court determines that an average, “reasonable” person would probably have made the same mistake.
WHAT ARE “ROMEO AND JULIET” LAWS?
Some states allow an exemption from statutory rape prosecutions for young adults and older minors who are near to one another in age – for example, an 18-year-old with a 17-year-old. These exceptions are commonly called “Romeo and Juliet” laws, and these laws are intended to protect teens and young adults from serious criminal charges when they have engaged in consensual sex with someone near to their own age.
California has only a partial “Romeo and Juliet” exemption for consensual sex with or between young adults and minors who are up to three years apart in age. However, this exemption is partial – it only reduces the statutory rape charge from a felony to a misdemeanor, and no exemption is offered to an older person who may have abused a position of authority, such as a coach or a teacher who has had a sexual relationship with a young athlete or student. The average age difference between a teen victim and an adult defendant in California statutory rape cases is seven years, nine months.
WHY IS CALIFORNIA’S LAW AGAINST STATUTORY RAPE SO IMPORTANT?
A number of disturbing statistics tell us why enforcing the law against statutory rape is so important in California. Of the fifty states, California has the highest teen birth rate in the United States, and every eight minutes, another teenager in California gives birth.
Of the babies born to high school-attending females in our state, 75 percent are fathered by men who are legal adults. The AFDC and Medi-Cal cost for one teen pregnancy, birth, and a year of support exceeds $10,000, so out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies cost this state’s taxpayers millions of dollars every year.
Generally speaking, the statute of limitations for statutory rape will depend on the age disparity between the alleged victim and the defendant. If the two people involved are less than three years of age apart, the statute of limitations is one year.
If the two people involved are more than three years of age apart, the statute of limitations is one year if the charge is a misdemeanor and three years if the charge is a felony. The “DNA exception” to the statute of limitations for statutory rape allows a prosecution to begin within one year of the date when the suspect is conclusively identified by DNA testing.
The laws against statutory rape are enforced aggressively in the state of California. When someone is convicted of statutory rape, no leniency will be offered by the court. If you are charged with statutory rape in this state, whether or not you are actually innocent or guilty as charged, you’ll require the advice and services of an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney – someone who has defended statutory rape defendants previously and who knows how to represent you effectively.