Many teenagers today are sexually active, and that fact can lead otherwise law abiding people to find themselves in hot water.

That’s because it’s illegal in California for an adult to have sex with anyone under 18.

Doing so is “statutory rape,” which is prosecuted under California Penal Code 261.5 PC. It can carry both civil and criminal penalties in California, but a conviction does not require you to register as a sex offender.

Regardless, facing allegations of statutory rape can be disruptive to your personal and professional life. Statutory rape carries a connotation of a “predator preying on children,” even though you very well might have been the one being deceived, and it can lead to reprecussions in many aspects of your life.

If you or someone you love has been accused of statutory rape, it can be beneficial to speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your options. 

What is statutory rape?

California law 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 will have to show that certain facts of the case were true. These are often referred to as the “elements of the crime.” Statutory rape has three elements:

  1. You had sexual intercourse with another person. Under the law, any amount of bodily penetration is considered sexual intercourse.
  2. That person was not married to you at the time
  3. That person was under 18 at the time of the intercourse. According to California law, you turn 18 at 12:01 a.m. on the day of your 18th birthday.

It doesn’t matter if force was used or if your partner willingly agreed to the encounter. Under the law, unmarried minors are unable to consent to sexual intercourse at all, so all of those cases fall under the umbrella of statutory rape.

Example: A 23-year-old high school soccer coach begins a relationship with one of the girls on his team (a 17-year-old senior). Even though both parties might have willingly agreed to the relationship, and even though there isn’t a major age difference between the two, if they were to have sex, this could be a violation of PC 261.5.

Penalties for statutory rape in California

“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 is a “wobbler” in California, meaning that depending on the facts of the case, it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Prosecutors use this scale to decide how to prosecute statutory rape:

  1. If the defendant was no more than 3 years older than their partner at the time of the encounter, it is always charged as a misdemeanor.
  2. If the defendant was more than 3 years older than their partner, the case can be tried as either a felony or misdemeanor.
  3. If the defendant was 21 or older and the partner was 15 or younger at the time of the encounter, the case can again be tried as a felony or misdemeanor. However, the penalties are stiffer in this case.

As a felony, statutory rape includes punishments can include:

  • Up to 3 years in county jail
  • Up to 4 years in county jail if the defendant was 21 or older
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

As a misdemeanor, statutory rape is punishable by:

  • Misdemeanor probation (also known as informal probation)
  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines

As well, as we mentioned above, if you are convicted of statutory rape, you could also be liable for civil damages. Those penalties are:

  • Up to $2,000 if the age gap was less than 2 years
  • Up to $5,000 if the age gap is at least 2 years
  • Up to $10,000 if the age gap is more than 3 years
  • Up to $25,000 if the defendant was 21 or older and the partner was 15 or younger

If you are convicted of statutory rape, there is no mandatory registration as a sex offender.

Defenses against statutory rape charges

It can be a nervous and anxious time to be accused of statutory rape. Fortunately, in cases where the “victim” presented themselves to be 18 or older, courts have judged in favor of the defendant.

A skilled criminal defense attorney who has experience working in statutory rape cases can investigate the facts of your case and bring evidence to light that can help get your charges reduced or dropped entirely. Especially in cases of false accusations, an attorney can help bring the truth to light and protect your freedom.

Robert M. Helfend is a SuperLawyers rated defense attorney, and he has practiced in the Ventura area since 1984. Call today for your free case evaluation — 805-273-5611.