In California, statutory rape is the unlawful act of sexual intercourse with a person under the age of eighteen (18) pursuant to Penal Code 261.5 PC. The crime of statutory rape is sometimes referred to as “unlawful sex with a minor” or “unlawful sexual intercourse”. Statutory rape is considered a crime regardless of whether or not the sexual intercourse was consensual or initiated by a minor, who is the alleged victim of the crime. With sexually active teenagers, the crime of statutory rape occurs frequently but may not always be reported. However, law-abiding citizens may fall victim to an accusation of statutory rape over hurt feelings, a bad break up, the parents or family of the alleged victim, or other sources.
Statutory rape encompasses a broad range of scenarios, for example:
- A female eighteen (18) years of age or older has sexual intercourse with a male under the age of eighteen (18).
- A teacher of legal age has a sexual relationship with a student who is under the age of eighteen (18).
- A teenage couple has sexual intercourse where the male is of age, eighteen (18), but the female is under age, for example, seventeen (17).
In each of these cases statutory rape is being committed. As mentioned, statutory rape can often be charged against innocent people due to anger, revenge, jealousy, or a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, false accusations lead to a large number of statutory rape prosecutions in California.
What are the penalties for statutory rape in California?
If you have been charged with statutory rape it is important that you seek out a criminal defense attorney who is experienced with sex crimes to protect your rights. Legal defenses may include your honest belief that the individual was eighteen (18) or older or that no sexual intercourse actually took place.
In order to be convicted of statutory rape in California the prosecution must prove that you:
- Had sexual intercourse with another person who was not eighteen (18) and that you were of legal age or older at the time of the accusation.
- That the persons involved were not married to each other at the time of the accusation.
- That the alleged victim was under eighteen (18) years of age at the time of the accused offense.
It is important to understand that the prosecution does not have to prove that force was used or that the alleged victim did not consent to the sexual intercourse. In statutory rape cases in California the age of the alleged victim is the most relevant aspect of the case.
Statutory rape in California is known as a “wobbler” meaning it can be tried as either a misdemeanor or a felony:
- If you are no more than three (3) years older than the alleged victim it will likely be tried as a misdemeanor offense.
- If you are more than three (3) years older than the alleged victim the offense may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
- If you are twenty-one (21) or older and the alleged victim is under the age of sixteen (16) at the time of the alleged crime, you may also face a misdemeanor or a felony charge. However, the potential felony penalties are more substantial than the situations described above.
The prosecution will typically consider the facts of the case and your criminal history (if applicable) when determining whether to try the case as a felony or a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor statutory rape convictions can result in probation, a maximum of one year in county jail, and/or up to $1,000.00 in fines. Felony statutory rape convictions come with harsher penalties including probation, prison time, and fines of up to $10,000.00. You may also face civil penalties that can lead to thousands of dollars in fines. In California, statutory rape convictions do not require an individual to register as a sex offender.
Defenses for statutory rape allegations
As mentioned some defenses may be available for victims of statutory rape allegations. These defenses include:
- Your honest and reasonable belief that the alleged victim was over the age of eighteen (18). This may include statements by the alleged victim claiming he/she was of age, their general appearance, or where you met the alleged victim (such as a bar or adult party or venue).
- False accusations. As mentioned, accusations are often made out of anger, jealousy, or revenge. There are also cases where the parents of the minor are unhappy about their child’s relationship and accuse the defendant of statutory rape.
If you have been accused of statutory rape it is important to immediately seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney knowledgeable in sex crimes. Most criminal defense attorneys offer a free initial consultation where you can confidentially discuss the details of your case and be advised of your best options moving forward.