Many teenagers today are sexually active, and they have no issues being comfortable in spaces that adults typically frequent.

ventura criminal defense attorneyAll too often, this leads to situations where normally law abiding people find themselves in trouble with this law. It’s illegal in California to have sexual intercourse with anyone younger than 18. That is known as “statutory rape.”

Statutory rape can carry steep criminal penalties. Sentences can range as high as three years per count, and the personal consequences of a statutory rape conviction can last even longer. That’s because people who have been accused of statutory rape are often seen as “predators,” eager to take advantage of young children. This can lead to job loss, strained relationships and personal stress..

The reality, however, isn’t as dramatic. People who are accused of statutory rape are most commonly well-meaning people who found themselves in an unfortunate situation with a stranger.

Statutory rape charges in California

California Penal Code 261.5 PC defines statutory rape as someone above the age of consent (18) having sexual intercourse with someone who is under the age of consent.

Many states have so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws, which make it legal for a minor to have sex with someone above the age of consent as long as they’re around the same age. California does not have a “Romeo and Juliet” law at all.

As a result, you could be found guilty if:

  1. You had sexual intercourse with another person. Any amount of bodily penetration is considered sexual intercourse under California law, no matter how slight or brief.
  2. You and the other person were not married to each other at the time.
  3. Your partner was under 18 at the time of the offense. According to California law, a person officially becomes 18 at 12:01 a.m. on the day of their birthday.

It does not matter if both parties willfully agreed to the encounter. Because one party was under the age of consent, they were not able to legally consent to the encounter.

Penalties for statutory rape in California

Statutory rape is a “wobbler” in California. This means that it can be tried as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on your criminal history and the facts of the case. 

Prosecutors use this scale to determine how to charge statutory rape:

If you were no more than 3 years older than the victim at the time of the encounterMisdemeanor
If you were more than three years older than the victimFelony or misdemeanor
If you were 21 years or older and the victim was under 16 at the time of the encounterFelony or misdemeanor, but felony penalties will be steeper in this case

As a misdemeanor, statutory rape is punishable by:

  • Up to a year in county jail
  • Fines of up to $1,000
  • Misdemeanor probation (also called “summary probation”)

As a felony, statutory rape is punishable by

  • Up to 3 years in county jail in most cases, and up to 4 years if the victim was under 16
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • Probation (either misdemeanor or felony probation)

If you are convicted of statutory rape in California, the good news is that you will not be required to register as a sex offender. However, the stigma can still follow you.

Defenses against statutory rape charges

“Robert Helfend is one of the best criminal defense attorneys I’ve ever worked with. He was so knowledgeable, and always made sure I understood everything every step of the way. I would definitely recommend him to anyone who wants an understanding, caring, and truly helpful lawyer.” Pat, CA

In prior cases, courts have judged in favor of the defendant when the “victim” presented themselves to be 18, or in cases where the defendant had a legitimate reason to believe the other person was over 18. For example, meeting at a 21-and-up concert.

Facing statutory rape allegations can be personally and professionally damaging, and for that reason, false accusations are common. However, a criminal defense attorney will thoughtfully and meticulously comb through the facts and evidence of your case. Once the evidence is brought to light, your attorney can expose faults in the prosecution’s evidence and fight for a reduction or dropped charges altogether.

Robert M. Helfend is a skilled veteran of sex crimes cases. Ranked by SuperLawyers, Lead Counsel and the National Trial Lawyers Top 100, he has practiced in the Ventura area since 1984. Call today for your free case evaluation — 805-273-5611.