What Is Statutory Rape?
Generally speaking, statutory rape is when a person over the age of 18 has sexual intercourse with someone who is under the age of 18. Since minors cannot consent, a person over the age of 18 may face a statutory rape charge.
A sex crimes defense attorney can help you avoid a statutory rape conviction and prepare a defensive strategy to get the charges dropped or lowered.
Statutory Rape Defined
Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a person under the age of consent. The age of consent varies by state, and it ranges from 16 to 18 years of age. Arizona, for example, sets the age of consent at 18, per state law. Whether the person consents to the sexual act or not, the law considers it a crime if they are under the age of consent.
Statutory rape is a felony offense in many states, depending primarily on the exact age of both parties. If they are very close in age, the law could classify the crime as a misdemeanor. On the other hand, if the victim is very young, such as those under the age of 12, the offender could receive the most severe punishments, such as life imprisonment.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You After a Statutory Rape Charge?
If you receive charges for statutory rape, you could face severe consequences. However, you don’t have to go through this legal process on their own. A criminal defense lawyer knows the proper steps to prepare a solid defense and show the judge or jury you shouldn’t receive a conviction for these crimes.
Steps they could take include:
- Speak to law enforcement
- Investigate the incident
- Prepare a defense
- Represent you in court
By taking these steps, an attorney can give you a better chance of getting a “not guilty” verdict. This outcome can help you move forward without having to worry about the long-term consequences of having a conviction on your record.
Speak to Law Enforcement
During the initial investigation, law enforcement could ask you a lot of questions. They may ask these questions to get you to say things that may not be accurate or even use your words against you. However, if you hire a criminal defense attorney, they can speak to law enforcement on your behalf. They should be familiar with communicating with them and the questionable tactics they use on alleged offenders.
Alternatively, if you have to talk to them, your attorney can guide you on what to say and what not to say, ensuring you don’t say anything that could incriminate yourself.
Investigate the Incident
Law enforcement officers will conduct their own investigation into the incident before charging you with a crime. Once you’ve been charged, a criminal defense attorney can also investigate the crime and review the police report and other evidence to determine what happened.
The investigation may also provide the criminal defense attorneys with enough information to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. It’s important to remember that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is guilty. If the defense attorneys can find inconsistencies in their case, the jury could have a harder time giving a guilty verdict.
Prepare a Defense
A criminal defense attorney can prepare a solid defense to help reduce or drop your charges. With a solid defense, you may have a better chance of avoiding a conviction. There are several potential defenses an attorney could use to protect you.
They may include:
- The victim mistakes the identity of the person who committed the crime. This type of defense is common when the victim chooses the perpetrator from a lineup of people.
- The victim is making a false report. This could happen if they were angry with you about something else and then wanted you to face the consequences for another reason.
- The victim is mistaken about what happened. They could have misinterpreted whatever took place between the two of you.
- You have an alibi showing you weren’t there at the time of the incident. The criminal defense team could prove this claim by showing phone records, location data, or DNA evidence.
- You believed the victim was at least 18 years of age. Some states recognize a “good-faith belief” defense that the alleged offender thought the victim was over the age of consent. If that applies to your case, the defense could provide text messages, an indication the minor had a fake ID, or other evidence where the victim might have told them they were over 18.
Sometimes, your attorney may create and employ multiple defense strategies to combat these allegations against you. Either way, they can personalize the defensive strategy to ensure it reflects your perspective of what happened.
Represent You in Court
In many criminal defense cases, the prosecution will offer a plea bargain to avoid a trial. An attorney can provide you with legal guidance and determine if the plea deal is fair. If not, they can represent you in court.
During the entirety of these proceedings, an attorney can lead your case by:
- Examining and cross-examining witnesses
- Preparing opening and closing arguments
- Presenting a solid defense in court in front of the judge and jury, showing the prosecution can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty
Another benefit of seeking legal counsel from a criminal defense attorney with years of experience with cases like yours is they could know the prosecutors. By working with the prosecution team often, they could be familiar with the types of tactics they use to win their cases, making it easier for them to build a defense.
Punishments for Statutory Rape
Many states don’t refer specifically to statutory rape, but instead, they use designations such as sexual assault or sexual abuse.
The punishments for statutory rape vary state by state. In Arizona law, the punishments are:
- If the victim is at least 15 but younger than 18, the offender could receive up to two years in prison.
- If the victim is 12 to 14 years old, the offender could serve 20 years in prison.
- If the victim is under 12 years old, the offender won’t have eligibility for release until they have served at least 35 years in prison.
Some Circumstances May Affect the Penalties
Sometimes, the circumstances of the incident may affect the penalties the alleged offender could face. For example, if the victim is at least 15 and the alleged offender is in a position of trust (e.g., family member, clergyman, teacher, or legal guardian), the prison time could vary.
In any case, if you’re convicted of statutory rape, you could face fines, probation, or community service on top of prison time.
Some People Who Face Conviction Must Go on the Sex Offender Registry
If you’re convicted of statutory rape, you may also have to register as a sex offender. However, just like penalties, registry rules differ by state. For example, you may have to be on the registry for a certain number of years or live however far away from a school or children in general. It depends on the severity of the alleged crime and any prior convictions.
On top of working through these criminal penalties, you could lose your job, lose professional licenses, lose custody of your children, and face civil lawsuits. The consequences could damage your professional and personal reputation, as well as any of your close relationships.
Frequently Asked Questions About Statutory Rape
Many people facing charges for statutory rape don’t know where to turn and have a lot of questions on potential next steps. As a result, when these people consult lawyers, common questions come up, including the following:
What Is the Difference Between Rape and Statutory Rape?
Rape is nonconsensual sexual intercourse that someone usually commits through force, threats, or fear.
In many states, rape can happen in other ways, including if a person:
- Coerced the victim to drink alcohol or take drugs so they couldn’t consent to the sexual intercourse.
- Dressed up as a public official and threatened to arrest the victim unless they engage in sexual intercourse with them.
- Has a known disability or cognitive issue that the person committing the act was aware of and continues to have sexual intercourse with them anyway.
Statutory rape is a type of rape. While it is not always forceful, it is the act of having sexual relations with someone who is too young to consent to engage in a sexual act.
What Steps Do I Take After Getting a Statutory Rape Charge?
After getting charged or accused of committing statutory rape, take action right away and:
- Get in touch with a criminal defense attorney’s office: Investigators could come at any time to speak to you about the incident. It’s helpful to have someone who has experience communicating with law enforcement answer questions on your behalf.
- Preserve evidence: Hang onto any evidence that could prove your innocence. Keep any text messages, photos, social media posts, emails, or GPS records. This information could help show where you were during the incident the victim alleges happened.
- Identify witnesses: If there is anyone who could have information about what happened during the incident, write down their name and contact information. Also, anyone who knows the victim and if they have a history of lying or making mistakes about events.
Once someone has accused you of statutory rape or you have received a charge, it is crucial you do not attempt to speak to the alleged victim. Only speak to law enforcement if you have an attorney present. They can help to protect your rights to ensure that doesn’t happen.
What If I Am in a Consensual Relationship With the Alleged Victim?
Even if you’re in a consensual relationship with the alleged victim, if they are under the age of 18 and you are over 18, you could still get charged with statutory rape. The law defines people under the age of consent as not mature enough to make decisions about consenting to have sexual intercourse.
Because of this, even if they said they wanted to engage in sexual activity, the law states they aren’t old enough to make that decision.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer or a Civil Lawyer?
If law enforcement charges you with statutory rape, a criminal defense lawyer can defend you against those charges.
You may only want to hire a civil lawyer if the alleged victim or their family files a civil case against you. During a civil case, the victim can try to recover monetary compensation for the losses they endured because of the alleged incident.
If the alleged victim is successful in their case, they could recover damages for the medical bills they accumulated or will accumulate, lost income, pain, and suffering, or emotional distress they experienced because of the incident.
Get an Attorney Today to Defend Your Rights After a Statutory Rape Charge
If you face criminal charges for statutory rape, speak to an attorney’s office today. They can analyze your case and explain the potential consequences you could endure. If they decide to take your case, they can build a solid defense to help protect your interests and keep you out of jail or from paying large fines.
During a consultation with a law firm, they may explain your legal options and how they can help you fight these charges of statutory rape.