California Legal Team

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How Is Statutory Rape Defined By California Laws

statutory rape

Every year, thousands of California minors are subjected to statutory rape. By raising awareness about the laws surrounding this type of rape, the California Legal Team hopes to decrease these numbers.

What Is Statutory Rape?

Unlike rape, which can be defined as non-consensual sexual intercourse between two adults, statutory rape is defined as sexual intercourse between an adult and a minor. Statutory rape is dependent on the age of consent rather than the act of consent itself. While the age of consent varies between states, any person who is below this age is considered too young to be able to fully consent to sexual intercourse. Consequently, an adult can be accused of statutory rape even if the minor consented.

In most cases, statutory rape occurs between an adult and a minor who has reached the age of puberty. Intercourse between an adult and a pre-pubescent child is often considered child sexual assault or child molestation and can be treated as a more serious criminal offense.

Statutory Rape In California

Under California Penal Code 261.5, statutory rape is defined as “an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator, if the person is a minor.” In California, the age of consent is 18 years, meaning that anyone younger than 18 is considered a minor and anyone over 18 is an adult. Although some states have passed “Romeo and Juliet laws”, which allow underage couples to engage in sexual activities, if two minors have sex with one another in California they are both technically guilty of statutory rape. Instead of being charged with felonies, however, California’s partial Romeo and Juliet laws allow for the downgrading of charges between minors to misdemeanors.

Punishment For Statutory Rape In California

Charges can result in either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the age difference between the people involved.

  • Misdemeanor
    A defendant who is at most 3 years older (or younger) than the victim will be charged with misdemeanor. If charged, the defended can face probation, up to 1 year in a county jail or state prison, or face a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Felony
    If an adult over the age of 21 engages in sexual intercourse with a minor younger than 16, they will be charged with felony and can be charged up to $25,000 in fines or spend up to 4 years in state prison.
  • Wobblers
    Some forms of statutory rape are considered ‘wobbler’ crimes, because they can result in either a misdemeanor or a felony charge, depending on the prosecutor and the age of the people involved. Statutory rape can result in either a felony or a misdemeanor if the victim is 16 years or older, and the perpetrator is 3 years older than the victim.

Statute Of Limitations

A statute of limitation refers to the period of time allowed to elapse between when a crime was committed, and when the crime is reported. In California, the statute of limitations for rape is 10 years. Sexual offenses that are committed against a minor must be reported before the minor involved turns 28.

Why Are Strict Statutory Rape Laws Necessary?

In 2015, more than 24 thousand female minors fell pregnant and gave birth to children. Many of the fathers of these children were men over the age of 18. By enforcing harsh statutory rape laws, California helps ensure that young people are protected against adults until they are old enough to properly consent to any form of sexual acts.

Statutory rape is, and always will be, a serious criminal offense. The California Legal Team have years of experience dealing with sexual assault cases and are always willing to provide support and legal assistance for survivors of any form of sexual crime.


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