Statutory Rape

Being accused of statutory rape is serious. Despite its name, statutory rape does not constitute rape in the way we commonly think about it – a forcible situation. Instead, statutory rape is often defined across many jurisdictions as having sexual intercourse with another person who is under 18 years of age. Because statutory rape doesn’t align with the common image of rape as a forcible sexual situation, another way to describe this act is unlawful sex or unlawful intercourse with a minor.

Are you someone who is accused of statutory rape or unlawful sex with a minor in California? We can help with your defense. We are Long Beach Criminal Attorney and we help defend cases across the greater Long Beach region. We have worked many cases to defend our clients against sex crime accusations in California, including statutory rape.

Statutory rape is a serious crime in California, but it can be confusing. That’s why we put together this introductory guideline about statutory rape. Know that this information is educational only; you should not use this information as specific legal advice or action. Instead, talk with a lawyer who fully understands your situation and can answer your questions and guide you expertly through your defense.

California Laws on Statutory Rape

The law that makes it illegal to sexually penetrate (have sex with) a minor in California is the state’s Penal Code Section 261.5. According to this statute, statutory rape is any engagement in sex (sexual intercourse) with a someone who is underage (a minor). In California, this minor is defined as any person aged under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged incident.

Unlike other sex crimes, statutory rape is a crime when it occurs, no matter the other circumstances. It does not matter whether the minor consented to the sex. It does not matter if the minor initiated the sex. This law explicitly sees as illegal any sex between any person with a minor.

This has a significant caveat: the person who is alleged to have committed the crime does not have to be older than 18. In fact, minors can be convicted of statutory rape. This can be quite confusing because in the situation of two minors engaging in sex, a good legal team may be able to argue that both parties are victims and perpetrators at the same time.

The law further makes clear that sexual intercourse includes any amount of penetration, whether slight or full, and that the intercourse need not result in ejaculation to be considered sexual intercourse.

Statutory rape in California, however, does not include sexual acts that are not sexual intercourse. If no penetration occurred, a charge of statutory rape is invalid. (However, other sex crimes may have occurred.)

Determining Age in California

We often think of determining age as important only for the minor. Indeed, it is – California state law determines a minor to be anyone under the age of 18. Individuals who are 17 or younger – minors – are not able to consent to sexual activity in the State of California.

It is also important to determine the age of the person accused of the crime, as this may be pertinent to determining whether the alleged crime shall be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. The state determines a person’s age based on their legal birthday. A person “turns” 1 year older at the time of 12:01 am on the day of his or her birthday.

Rape Versus Statutory Rape

We mentioned at the beginning how statutory rape, despite its name, does not align with the common idea of rape. For most U.S. states, rape includes any nonconsensual penetration of one person by another person. This includes the penis (sex organ) entering, even slightly, the vagina (female sex organ), but it can also include other objects, both human and non-human, entering other body parts as well. Some laws also make illegal for unwanted fellatio, cunnilingus, or anal intercourse to occur.

Contrast this with statutory rape: statutory rape is a sexual penetration, but it does not need to be unwanted by one partner. Indeed, most cases of statutory rape are in fact consensual by both partners. It is merely their age difference that elevates an otherwise ordinary sexual experience to an illegal situation.

Examples of Statutory Rape

Because statutory rape does not fall within the normal parameters of forcible sex (rape), here are some real-life examples of statutory rape:

  • Two high school students have been dating for two years, but one is a senior in high school and the other is a junior. The senior turns 18 but the junior is still 16. The couple have sex.
  • A 16-year-old girl goes online and starts chatting with a 26-year-old in her area that she doesn’t know. Over the course of several months, they get to know each other well and decide to meet at a café. Despite the age difference, they both like each other and decide to have sex.
  • A college student recently turned 20 years old and returned home during spring break, where she had sex with her 17-year-old neighbor who admitted he always had a crush on her.

Importantly, in each of these situations, both partners consented to having sex with the other. If, however, one partner forced himself or herself onto the other partner, a more severe ra[e crime may apply instead of, or in addition to, statutory rape.

These examples also illustrate the gap in age between the two partners, which can have an effect on the court’s decision and on the punishment.

California’s Realistic Approach to Statutory Rape

Legal teams and courts who prosecute sex crimes understand that statutory rape is a common occurrence. For example, high school students who are sexually active may engage in statutory rape simply because one partner, a senior in high school, is 18, and the long-term boyfriend or girlfriend is a year behind, at age 16 or 17.

It is also equally common for two minors to engage in sex, something that other states sometimes protect from statutory rape as a “Romeo and Juliet law”. California, however, has no such explicit law, but such a close-in-age situation is often something that California courts will overlook unless in outstanding circumstances. (If such a case is pursued, where both parties are minors, it is likely to be tried within the California juvenile court system.)

In reality, a person may file statutory rape charges against another person for reasons other than it actually occurred – because minors are involved, they may decide to make a bogus charge against another person, perhaps out of anger, revenge, jealousy, or more. In California, it is not uncommon for false accusations to leave to wrongful arrests that play out only for the courts to realize the charge was based on false or ignorant information.

Proving Statutory Rape in Court

As always, remember that being charged with any crime is not a conviction. Charges can have negative impacts in and of themselves, but if your court case ends in an acquittal, you have been deemed not guilty.

If your case does go to court, the prosecuting legal team (the lawyer of the alleged victim) must prove at least three significant facts in court. Proving these things is sometimes known as the burden of proof or the elements of the crime. Each of the following 3 facts must be explained and proven:

  • That you, as the defendant, had sexual intercourse (penetration) with another person.
  • That you and the partner, the alleged victim, were not married to each other when the alleged incident occurred.
  • That the partner, the alleged victim, was under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged incident.

Unlike many other types of sex crimes, the prosecuting lawyer in a statutory rape case does not need to prove the following:

  • That you used force as a means to achieving sexual intercourse
  • That your partner, the victim, did not consent to sexual intercourse

Common Legal Defenses Against Statutory Rape

If someone accuses you of statutory rape, your first move may be to retain a lawyer. Lawyers across California specialize in particular types of law, so seeking a defense lawyer who specializes in sex crimes means you’ll be working with a legal team who has plenty of experience defending against charges of statutory rape.

Here are some common defense strategies your lawyer may choose to pursue:

  • Reasonable ignorance. Your reasonable belief or understanding that the minor was 18 or older at the time of the incident in question. This may apply to cases wherein a minor pretends to be older than she or he really is, or in which you did not ask how old the minor was and the minor reasonably seemed to look and act older than 18 years.
  • Limited physical contact. The angle that no sexual intercourse took place, though perhaps other sexual activity did.
  • The event in question did not happen at all. Perhaps you are a victim of a wrongful accusation or a personal vendetta.

Statutory rape, unlike other types of crimes, does not hinge on your will or your intent. Many crimes in California rely on your intent to perform a certain action. Unfortunately, in statutory rape, even if both partners consent, the act is still prohibited. Still, a skilled defense lawyer can use this information to show the court and jurors why a guilty decision on a statutory rape charge may be unnecessary.

Punishment for Statutory Rape

If a court determines you are guilty of statutory rape, the circumstances of your punishment will depend on your situation. In California, sex crimes are considered either a misdemeanor crime or a felony crime. Misdemeanors are deemed less severe than felonies, and as such have lighter penalties and sentencing.

Defense lawyers in California refer to statutory rape as a “wobbler” offense because the court can decide how to pursue the crime: as misdemeanor or felony. The court decides, at the onset of the case, whether to choose to more or less severe crime, typically depending primarily on the age difference between the partners.

California state law regarding statutory rape lists the following penalties and punishments:

  • A person determined guilty of sex with a minor wherein the minor is less than 3 years younger will be charged with a misdemeanor. Such punishment may include:
    • Paying a fine of up to $2,000 for instances that the age difference between the two parties is less than 2 years
    • Paying a fine of up to $5,000 for instances that the age difference between the two parties is more than 2 years but under 3 years
  • A person determined guilty of sex with a minor wherein the minor is 3 years younger or more can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Such punishment may include:
    • Being imprisoned in county jail (not state prison) for a maximum of 1 year
    • Paying a fine of up to $10,000
  • A person aged 21 (or older) who has sex wherein the minor is younger than 16 years old is guilty of either a misdemeanor crime or a felony crime, as pre-determined by the court. Such punishment may include a combination of the following:
    • Being imprisoned in county jail for a maximum of 1 year
    • Being imprisoned in state prison for 2, 3, or 4 years
    • Paying a fine of up to $25,000

Finding the Right Statutory Rape Attorney Near You

A charge of statutory rape might seem less severe than a rape charge. Still, the state considers it a sex crime and tries and punishes it accordingly – which is to say it is not light. If you are convicted of a felony crime, you will have to deal with significant long-term negative effects on your life, including a difficult time obtaining or keeping a job, plus loss of rights like the right to bear firearms legally and the right to vote.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can navigate your own defense on your own. Instead, get in touch with Long Beach Criminal Attorney today. We have worked with many clients across Long Beach and the greater Southern California area and we are ready to go to work for you. Our expert team of lawyers and legal professionals have your back when it comes to defending against statutory rape charges. Call our Long Beach Criminal Lawyer today at 562-308-7807 to get started.