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Statutory rape is a legal term used to describe sexual intercourse with a individual who is younger than the legally defined age of consent, whether or not the underage individual has consented to the sexual encounter. The underage individual may even have initiated the sexual encounter, but under California law, the encounter is still statutory rape.
The age of consent differs from state to state. California Penal Code 261.5 PC defines the age of consent as 18 years of age.
Misdemeanor or Felony?
Unlike certain other states, California does not differentiate between statutory rape and consensual intercourse between minors. The category of the crime and the penalties the crime carries, however, may vary according to the perpetrator’s age.
If the alleged perpetrator is three years older or less than the minor with whom he or she is accused of having sex, the crime can be charged as a misdemeanor.
If the alleged perpetrator is more than three years older that the minor with whom he or she is accused of having sex, the crime can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony so long as the minor is more than 16 years of age.
An alleged perpetrator who is 21 years of age or older and is accused of having sex with a minor who is younger than 16 years of age can also be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor.
Statutory Rape Penalties
A statutory rape conviction carries serious penalties, so if you find yourself facing statutory rape charges, it’s very important to consult with an attorney who has experience with these types of cases. He or she will be in the best position to help you protect your legal rights.
If you’re convicted of a statutory rape charge, you could be required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of your life. The court has the discretion to make this decision and will do so on the basis of a psychological evaluation, the existence of any prior criminal history and the specific circumstances of the case.
A misdemeanor statutory rape conviction can carry a jail sentence of up to 364 days and a fine of up to $1,000. If you’re convicted of felony statutory rape, and you were more than three years older than a minor who was 16 or older at the time the sexual encounter took place, you could be looking at a two- or three-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $10,000. If you’re more than 21 years of age and are convicted of felony statutory rape, and the minor with whom the sexual encounter took place is younger than 16, you could be facing up to four years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.
Statutory rape charges cannot be brought against the legal spouse of an individual who is younger than 18 years of age.
Additionally, the only criminal act stipulated by California Penal Code 261.5 PC is sexual intercourse. Oral copulation and other types of sexual contact with a minor who is under the age of consent are also illegal in the State of California, but they are addressed by other provisions of California’s criminal code.
In some situations, individuals have avoided statutory rape convictions by arguing that they were unaware of their sexual partner’s true age. The burden of proof here is on the alleged perpetrator to show that he or she had good reason to believe the victim was 18 years of age or older and that any reasonable person would have arrived at the same conclusion. If you’ve been charged in Los Angeles under California’s statutory rape law, a sex crimes lawyer can help you evaluate your options.