Sex crimes generally carry some of the harshest penalties, but the penalties are significantly higher when the victim is a minor. An example of sex crimes involing minors is statutory rape. This offense, also known as unlawful sexual intercourse, occurs when a person engages in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of consent (18 years). If you are convicted of this crime, you are not only facing high fees and extended prison terms but also your reputation could be jeopardized. If you are facing statutory rape charges in Chula Vista, we invite you to contact us at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney. We will listen and try our best to defend you.

What is Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape occurs when anyone engages in sexual intercourse with anyone under 18 years since the law considers them minors as long as they are not married. It doesn't matter whether the minor consented to the act or not since legally, the law takes them as unable to consent to sex.

The law's specifics are incredible considering the degree of sexual activity prevalent among minors today. This only indicates how frequently the court handles such cases. There's a high probability that sometimes, most offenders suffer in innocence due to false accusations. Engaging with an experienced defense lawyer can be of immense help.

Instances of Statutory Rape

Some scenarios that could result in statutory sexual assault charges within this section include the following:

  • A 16-year-old male has sexual relations with an 18-year-old female high school student with whom they share some lessons

  • A 16-year-old girl developing a sexual relationship with her 40-year-old professor

  • Dating high schoolers having sex for the first time after several years of dating when he is 19 and she is 17

When Is It Illegal to Have Sexual Relations With a Minor?

To convict you under Penal Code 261.5, the prosecuting attorney must establish at least three facts (also known as "elements of the offense") present at your arrest. These are some of the facts:

  • you had sexual contact with another person (any degree of sexual penetration, no matter how slight, connotes sexual contact even when there is no ejaculation)

  • the individuals involved were not married at the time (the reality that the person is married to another person or was once married does not relieve the minor of legal responsibility for this offense)

  • the victim was under the age of eighteen (18) years at the time of the alleged violation

In particular, it is crucial to highlight that the prosecutor does not need to demonstrate that the offender used force to accomplish the sexual activity (or that the victim didn't admit to the intercourse) to succeed in their case.

This is in contrast to regular rape under California law. The victim's refusal to consent to sexual contact is critical for prosecuting rape under PEN 261.

The age of the individuals is the only factor that matters under PC 261.5, which allows prosecutions to emerge from an otherwise loving and caring relationship.

Age is, therefore, a critical factor during sentencing. As discussed in subsequent sections, the punishments accompanying statutory rape largely depend on the victim's age and the age difference between them and the offender.

Therefore, the prosecutor has to prove the parties' age difference when the sexual encounter occurred. The law determines one's age by considering the past midnight mark where one is a year older if the clock ticks a minute past midnight.

Let's consider this illustration: Troy is 19 years old. Alison, his girlfriend, is seventeen years old. Cory knows some people who have faced prison sentences for violating PC 261.5, and he is highly concerned about the possibility of being sentenced if he violates this section. As a result, he and Alison intend to wait until she turns 18 years old before having sexual relations.

Alison's birthday is 2nd March, which is a Friday. On 1st March, she and Troy stayed up all night to talk about their day. Right around midnight, after the date changed to 2nd March, they engaged in sexual relations for the very first time. As a result, Troy will not face conviction for violating PC 261.5, since Alison is legally now an adult.

Minors Can Face Charges for Statutory Rape

It is critical to note that you can face charges for violating PC 261.5 if sexual intercourse occurred when you were under 18. It may be a bit absurd considering that in such a case, the defendant was also a victim in a way.

Most prosecutors do not prioritize prosecuting teenagers for engaging in sexual activities with other teenagers. However, this does not mean that such prosecutions cannot happen.

California's juvenile court will almost certainly prosecute a PC 261.5 case involving a child defendant.

Statute of Limitations for Statutory Rape

It's essential to understand the statute of limitations for statutory rape before we get into the penalties. Most criminal acts require the prosecutor to take legal action within a specific time frame called the "statute of limitations." If they do not file charges within this timespan, you will not be prosecuted for the said crime unless there are specific applicable exceptions to your case.

Statutes of limitations hold a special significance because lawmakers believe that courts should not charge people with offenses that happened many years ago. Facing charges for a crime after several years makes it challenging to defend yourself for various reasons, including:

  • Pivotal witnesses could be deceased or unable to be cited

  • Physical evidence may degrade or get lost over the years

  • You might not be able to remember the actual events when the supposed crime happened, therefore making it impossible to utilize the alibi defense

The nature of the alleged crime and the age gap between you and the purported victim help determine the statute of limitations for statutory rape.

PC 261.5(b) - Statutory rape is a misdemeanor if an age difference is below three years between you and the victim when the crime happened. Misdemeanor statutory rape has a one-year statute of limitations.

PC 261.5(c) - A wobbler violation occurs when you and the purported victim have an age difference of over three years when the sexual encounter occurred. Misdemeanors have a one-year statute of limitations, whereas felony statutory rape has a three-year statute of limitations.

However, just because three years have gone by does not guarantee you will not face charges for a crime. The DNA Exception rule in PC 803 authorizes prosecutors to sue you for wrongdoing if DNA evidence firmly identifies you as the suspect. The following should be valid to prosecute you with statutory rape based on the DNA Exception guideline:

  • The crime occurred after 1st January 2001, and

  • DNA was gathered and analyzed within two years following the crime.

Prosecutors have a year to pursue formal charges if DNA evidence implicates the defendant.

Misdemeanor Statutory Rape Penalty

If you are not more than three years younger or older than a minor and engage in an illegal sexual encounter, the court will charge the offense as a misdemeanor. The penalty includes completing summary probation, spending a year in county jail and a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Felony Statutory Rape Penalty

If you are 21 years and above and the victim is below 16 years, the offense becomes a felony. Its penalty includes completing felony probation, serving a jail term of between two to four years in county jail, and a fine not exceeding $10,000. If you are below 21, but over 18 when you committed the act, the jail term could be 16 months, two, or three years in county jail.

Wobbler Statutory Rape Penalty

A wobbler offense is one that the court can either charge as a misdemeanor or felony, considering the details of your case and criminal background. If the unlawful sexual encounter involved a minor more than three years younger than the offender, it qualifies as a wobbler. Based on the court's decision, you can face the respective penalties already mentioned above.

Civil Penalties for Statutory Rape

On top of the criminal penalties mentioned above, anybody charged with breaking PC 261.5 could also be subject to civil penalties. You may be required to pay non-criminal fines in addition to jail time and paying legal penalties if you get convicted of a crime. Adult offenders (defendants 18 and above) are the only ones who can receive orders to pay such fines.

The age gap between the involved parties determines the severity of civil fines. The following are the possible penalties:

  • If you have indulged in illegal sexual intercourse with a youngster less than two years younger than you, you may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $2,000 and any criminal penalties.

  • If you have participated in unlawful sexual activity with a juvenile at least two years younger than you, you may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000.

  • If you have had an unlawful sexual encounter with a juvenile at least three years younger than you, you may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

  • Suppose you are over 21 and have engaged in illicit sexual intercourse with a juvenile under sixteen years. In that case, you may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $25,000 and any criminal penalties.

Section 261.5(e)(2) of the California Penal Code states: The prosecuting attorney may file actions to reclaim civil penalties following this subdivision. When the court raises money in a case, it stores a portion of it with the treasurer of the area where the judgment took place, and the rest goes to the Underage Pregnancy Prevention Fund, established in the State Treasury. The funds put in the Underage Pregnancy Prevention Fund are strict about combating underage pregnancy if the Legislature appropriates the funds for that purpose.

Court Options During Sentencing

When you get charged with statutory rape, it is the court's discretion to determine your punishment considering the facts of your case. The following options are available to the court during sentencing:

  • You will face a sentence of one of the three terms prescribed by law:

  • Misdemeanor statutory rape can result in a maximum of one year in county jail.

  • Felony statutory rape carries a sentence of 16 months, 2 or 3 years in county prison.

  • Felony statutory rape 2, 3, or 4 years in the county jail are possible sentences: (If you are over the age of 21 and the victim is under the age of 16)

  • Put you on probation and subject you to a maximum of one year in county jail if you fail to comply with the terms of your probation.

  • Imposing probation without jail time, but you must perform community service.

  • Put you on formal parole and appoint a probation officer to supervise you.

Statutory Rape Probation Requirements Under the Law

If you are subject to parole, the court will prescribe specific probation terms customized to the offense you are facing. The court will include the following in the probationary period:

  • There is no law to break (except a traffic infraction)

  • Meet your parole officer as often as necessary by your probation terms

  • Participate in community service

  • Participate in programs for sexual addiction or rehab

  • Unplanned drug testing

  • Random personal inspections of you or your house

The probationary conditions mentioned above are only a few examples of what the court can issue. If you breach either of these requirements, the court has the authority to convict you to the maximum duration permitted by the law.

Legal Defenses for Statutory Rape

In the case of a PC 261.5 charge, there are several legal arguments that an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer could submit on your behalf to the prosecutor. The following are samples of some of the most frequently encountered.

You Genuinely and Logically Thought That the Claimed Victim Was Over Eighteen

Unless you genuinely and logically believed that the claimed victim was at least at the minimum legal age (18 years old) when you had sexual relations, you cannot be found guilty of violating PC 261.52. It is a more specialized variant of the primary legal defense of fraudulent misrepresentation, referred to as the "mistake of age." This may be applicable in circumstances when minors misrepresent their age on the internet.

Examples of the forms of evidence that your attorney could use to establish this defense include:

  • Assertions made by the claimed victim indicating that they were above 18 years,

  • Their clothes and overall look, and

  • The location where you encountered the alleged victim (for example, at an adults-only event).

If an individual meets a juvenile in a bar, there could be valid reasons to believe they are over 18 years. The jury needs to see that any other reasonable person in your place would also think that the minor was an adult based on your circumstances.

False Allegations

PC 261.5 is a sex crime that, like any other sex crime in the state, has the potential to result in false accusations. PC 261.5 charges are sometimes brought from feelings of rage, envy, or vengeance by the minor's parent who is uncomfortable with the person their child is seeing.

The best advice your defense attorney will give you is to remain silent and not attempt to convince the police that your version of the story is correct or that you can persuade your way out of the situation. Allow your attorney to take care of it since that is their work. PC 261.5 charges have serious ramifications, hence why the lawyer will perform a comprehensive investigation to assist you in proving your version of events and your innocence.

The Victim Wasn't a Child

You could not be prosecuted for statutory rape if the alleged victim was not a child when you indulged in intercourse. Because the victim's age is an essential aspect of this offense and can impact your sentence and penalty, your lawyer can undertake a comprehensive investigation to discover the victim's actual age and when the claimed event occurred. If you can clearly show that the victim was already an adult when the intercourse took place, you can't answer for charges of statutory rape or get convicted.

You Were the Victim's Spouse

You could not face statutory convictions if the victim were your spouse despite being a minor when you engaged in sexual activities. In California, it is permissible for a juvenile to marry an adult if the youngster receives parental or legal consent. Your lawyer could offer evidence and paperwork of your valid union to the claimed victim to argue your case if you had been married to the victim when the intercourse occurred.

You Didn't Have Sexual Relations With The Victim

You cannot be prosecuted for statutory rape if you never had sexual contact with the alleged victim. This crime necessitates the invasion of the vaginal region by the penis. As a result, kissing, petting, or oral sex with the alleged victim will not be enough to convict you of this crime. The prosecution frequently brings statutory rape allegations based on untrustworthy testimony or rumors. Your lawyer can assist you in discrediting the prosecution's witness testimonies and demonstrating to the jury why the charges leveled against you are baseless.

It is crucial to note that not all the defenses discussed above will directly be helpful to your case. However, your defense attorney will prepare a defense strategy relevant to your situation and discuss it with you.

Minor's Consent not a Defense

According to Penal Code 261 of the California Penal Code, if the putative victim consented to have intercourse with the perpetrator, the perpetrator is not guilty of the felony.

That's not the case with PC 261.5 accusations, on the other hand. The fact that there's no violent rape of a minor cannot suffice as a defense in this case. According to the law, even when there is permission, the law still regards statutory rape as a kind of sexual abuse of children.

Statutory rape is a criminal offense because minors — persons below the age of 18 — are considered legally incapable of giving consent. It implies that even when the victim was an active participant in the event and desired consensual sex, your attorney cannot use that reality as a legal defense against a PC 261.5 accusation under the law. In the eyes of the state, juveniles are too immature to understand the legal ramifications of their conduct.

The Sex Offender Registry and Statutory Rape

Statutory rape forms part of sex crimes. As a result, many people question lawyers if they'll have to register as sex offenders if they're guilty of statutory rape.

The solution is a little more complicated.

According to PC 290, several crimes under this section require that any person convicted register as a sex offender to comply with their sentence. One of such offenses is statutory rape. However, if the court concludes you performed your offense "due to sexual coercion or for the sake of sexual enjoyment," the court has the authority to require you to register as a sex offender as a portion of your punishment.

Although a statutory rape prosecution does not require you to register as a sex offender, a judge may order you to do so considering the facts of your case.

Romeo and Juliet Laws in California

The term "Romeo and Juliet laws" refers to laws protecting teenagers and young adults from facing criminal charges for getting involved in consensual sex with individuals close to their age. Some states, for example, prohibit an 18-year-old from being charged with a crime for engaging in sexual activity with a 17-year-old.

Regarding statutory rape, the state is strict. However, there are some Romeo and Juliet laws in place. These laws shield young adults who participate in sexual activities with juveniles not exceeding three years their junior from felony statutory charges of rape. Still, they could receive sentences for misdemeanor charges. Furthermore, this unique category of laws does not incorporate individuals who abuse their positions of authority, like lecturers who participate in sexual activities with students. California does not have Romeo and Juliet law, so you cannot use this as a defense.

Contact a Sex Crimes Defense Attorney Near Me

Prosecutors will prosecute statutory rape charges vigorously, so you can expect a tough battle if you want to fight your charges. We at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney have some of the best defense attorneys that you can count on if you are facing severe charges like statutory rape. If you are in Chula Vista, we invite you to contact us today at 619-877-6894.