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Exceptions to California's Statutory Rape Laws

Statutory rape is not handled lightly in California, and those accused will likely face jail time and fines, as well as the requirement to register as a sex offender in the state. However, there are a few exceptions that can reduce your charge to a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Keep reading to learn more about the marital exception and Romeo and Juliet exception to California’s statutory rape laws.

Statutory Rape Laws in California

In California, it is illegal for someone 18 or older to have sex with someone younger than 18, even if the sex is consensual. This is considered statutory rape under state law. Statutory rape laws are based on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities.

The types of statutory rape classified under California law are as follows:

  • Unlawful sexual intercourse or penetration between a minor who is 17 or younger and a defendant of any age.
  • Unlawful oral sex between a minor who is 17 or younger and a defendant of any age.
  • Sexual penetration between a minor who is under 14 and a defendant who is at least 10 years older than the minor.
  • Lewd and lascivious acts upon a child involving sexual contact between a minor who is 13 or younger and a defendant of any age, or between a minor who is 14 or 15 and a defendant who is at least 10 years older than the minor.

Depending on other factors, particularly the ages of the parties involved, statutory rape crimes can be tried as either misdemeanors or felonies in California. The charges and potential punishments are typically more serious the younger the victim. There are a few exceptions to California’s statutory rape laws, though, that can irrefutably reduce your charge to a misdemeanor level instead of a felony level.

Exceptions to the Statutory Rape Laws

Marital Exception

California has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows minors to have consensual sex if they are legally married. This means a person cannot be charged with engaging in sexual activity with a minor when the two are married.

For example, under the state’s statutory rape laws, if a 16-year-old girl willingly has sex with her 23-year-old boyfriend, her boyfriend can be charged with statutory rape, since the girl, as a minor, is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place. However, if the two are married and living in California, the older boyfriend should not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with his girlfriend due to California’s marital exemption to the state’s statutory rape laws. Please note that if the boyfriend (husband) were to forcibly rape his wife, he would have no protection under the law because it has now become a case of marital rape.

Romeo and Juliet Exception

When the accused and the victim are closer in age, the penalties for statutory rape can be less severe. “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions, also called “close-in-age” exceptions, are intended to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age. In California, there is a type of Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between a minor and a person who is 3 or fewer years older or younger.

However, be aware that this is a limited exception that does not exempt the defendant from a criminal charge but merely reduces the conduct from a felony to a misdemeanor offense. The conduct is still illegal, but someone protected by this exception could incur smaller fines and reduced jail time. Note that this is an exception applied in all circumstances in California, so it is not considered a “law” in the sense that it must be argued in court.

Other Statutory Rape Defenses

While the above exceptions are applied to the statutory rape laws in all scenarios, there are other defenses that you could potentially argue to fight a false charge. Defendants accused of statutory rape often claim they had no reason to know that their partner was underage, such as if the minor told them they were of age and another reasonable person would have believed it if told the same. Unlike in most states, mistake of age is sometimes a defense in California.

A person accused of statutory rape can also assert that there was no sexual intercourse between the defendant and the alleged. If the defendant did not engage in sexual activity with a minor, there is no crime of statutory rape. However, be aware that, unlike in the case of a rape charge, consent is not a defense to statutory rape in California, as statutory rape is based on the belief that those below the legal age of consent cannot give valid consent to sexual activity. As a result, consent will not work as a defense even if the minor attempted to give consent.

Contact an Experienced Lawyer Today

If you have been wrongfully charged with statutory rape, contact an attorney immediately. Depending on your case, you might qualify under the marital exception or Romeo and Juliet exception, and an experienced lawyer can help you argue for reduced charges. Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC can take a look at your case and determine your next steps to defend against an unfair statutory rape charge.

Contact our firm at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC today for more information.