It’s a fact of today’s society that many teenagers are sexually active. This can lead to situations where otherwise law abiding people find themselves in legal trouble.

In California, adults cannot have sex with anyone under the age of 18. Doing so is considered “statutory rape,” which can carry both criminal and civil penalties depending on the facts of the case. 

Because statutory rape cases also carry a connotation of an older adult “preying” on children, facing these allegations can be personally damaging, leading to repercussions in your personal life or at work. If you or someone you love has been accused of statutory rape, it’s important to speak with a defense attorney skilled in sex crimes cases as soon as possible. It can help protect your reputation and your freedom.

What is Statutory Rape?

California Penal Code 261.5 PC defines statutory rape as a case of someone above the age of consent (18) having sex with an unmarried partner who is below the age of consent.

In order to convict you of statutory rape, a prosecutor must prove three things happened:

  1. You had sexual intercourse with another person. California law defines sexual intercourse as any amount of bodily penetration, even if there was no ejaculation.
  2. You and the other person were not married at the time. In prior case law, the courts have found that this does not excuse cases where the partner was married to someone else.
  3. Your partner was under 18 at the time of the offense. According to California law, a person turns 18 years old at 12:01 a.m. on the day of their birthday.

It does not matter if force was used or if your partner agreed to the encounter. If the other person was under the age of consent at the time, they were not legally able to consent to the encounter.

Example: A 40-year old college professor develops a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old freshman in one of his classes. Even though both parties may have agreed to the relationship, the freshman was not legally able to consent, and this could be a case of statutory rape.

Does California Have a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Law?

Many states have ‘Romeo and Juliet’ laws, which make it legal for a minor to have sex with someone else as long as both parties are around the same age. 

California does not have a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ law, meaning that in all cases, it is illegal to have sex with someone younger than 18.

Example: An 18-year-old high school senior strikes up a relationship with a 16-year-old sophomore. If this pair were to have sex, it would likely be a violation of PC 261.5, because the sophomore had not reached the age of consent.

Example: Two 16-year-old high school sophomores start dating. Even though the are the same age, a sexual encounter would violate California’s statutory rape law.

Penalties for Statutory Rape

los angeles criminal defense lawyerStatutory rape is a “wobbler” under California law, which means that it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Prosecutors use this scale to decide how to charge the case:

  1. If you were no more than 3 years older than the alleged victim at the time of the encounter, it statutory rape is always charged as a misdemeanor.
  2. If you were more than 3 years older than the victim, the case can be tried as a felony or misdemeanor.
  3. If you were 21 years old or older and your partner was under 16 at the time of the encounter, the case can still be tried as a felony or misdemeanor. However, the felony penalties are steeper in this case.

As a misdemeanor, statutory rape is punishable by:

  • Misdemeanor probation (also known as informal or summary probation)
  • Up to one year in county jail
  • Fines of up to $1,000

As a felony, statutory rape is punishable by:

  • Probation (either felony or misdemeanor probation)
  • Up to three years in county jail in the case of item No. 2 above
  • Up to four years in the case of item No. 3
  • Fines of up to $10,000

If someone is convicted of statutory rape, they can also face civil penalties in addition to criminal penalties. Those civil penalties are:

  • Up to $2,000 if the victim is less than 2 years younger than the defendant
  • Up to $5,000 if the age gap is at least 2 years
  • Up to $10,000 if the age gap is greater than 3 years
  • Up to $25,000 if the defendant was 21 or older and the victim was younger than 16

Only adult defendants are subject to civil penalties.

Does a Statutory Rape Conviction Require Me To Register As a Sex Offender?

In California, a conviction for statutory rape does not require a person to register a sex offender. However, facing the conviction can still cause a great deal of damage to a person’s reputation.

Defenses Against Statutory Rape Charges

“Robert really came to my rescue! I found myself under false accusations and he really came through. I was really freaking out, and Robert was able to make me feel like I was in good hands. I can’t recommend his services enough.”Drew, CA

Statutory rape cases can be personally and professionally damaging. However, the good news is that in many cases, it can be possible to successfully defend them.

Courts have been known to find in favor of the defendant in cases where the “victim” presented themselves to be over the age of 18, or if the defendant had a legitimate reason to believe their partner was above the age of consent (if they met at a 21+ bar, for example).

False accusations are also incredibly common in statutory rape cases. Someone might make a claim to damage another person’s reputation, done out of jealousy or personal malice. In these cases, a skilled defense attorney can carefully examine all of the facts of the case and mount a defense. Then, that accusers claims will fall apart under scrutiny.

Robert M. Helfend is an expert in sex crimes cases, and he is skilled in mounting defenses against statutory rape charges. He has practiced in the Los Angeles area since 1984. Call today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434