Being accused of rape – any type of rape – has a profound and lasting impact on your life. Just the word “rape” typically calls to mind a horrible act of violence for most people. Rape, however, is a crime that is extremely fact specific. For example, “rape” can mean a stranger jumping out of the bushes holding a knife to the victim’s throat and forcing the victim to engage in sexual conduct or “rape” can mean a 20 year old having sex with his 17 year old girlfriend. Fortunately, the law does recognize the distinction between these extremes. Unlike some states though, California does not actually have a “Romeo and Juliet” law that provides for an exception to charges of statutory rape when the perpetrator is close in age to the “victim” and is actually the boyfriend or girlfriend of the victim. Therefore, if you are over the age of 18 and are in a relationship with someone under the age of 18 in California you need to understand the state’s statutory rape laws.
In California, the age of consent is 18 years old. This means that anyone under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to sexual conduct. This concept is difficult for many people to accept. Although we all know that many teenagers are sexually active, by their own choice, the laws of the State of California say that an individual under the age of 18 cannot consent to sex. Therefore, anyone who has sex with someone under the age of 18 is committing a sexual offense because the “victim” did not consent to the conduct. This applies even if the alleged “victim” initiated the conduct or blatantly agreed to the conduct.
In some states, exceptions to their statutory rape laws are available if the defendant can prove that he or she was in a relationship with the alleged victim and that consent was only lacking because the victim was under the legal age of consent. These laws are referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” laws after the famous Shakespearean star crossed lovers. California does not have a Romeo and Juliet law.
Statutory rape in California can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The age of the victim and the age difference between the defendant and the victim determines how the crime is charged. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, a defendant over the age of 21 with a victim under the age of 16 will be charged with a felony and faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
If you have been charged with statutory rape in California it is in your best interest to contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney right away.
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