Charged With Statutory Rape? How Can You Defend Yourself?

If you have been arrested and charged with statutory rape -- the crime of having sexual intercourse with someone who is not legally able to consent to sex -- you may be wondering whether there are any defenses available to you. Pleading guilty or being convicted of this crime can have long-term consequences, including placement on your state's sex offender registry or being automatically barred from some types of employment. However, you may be able to fight back. Read on to learn more about some of the more common available defenses to a charge of statutory rape, as well as situations in which you may be better served by pleading guilty.

What are some potential legal defenses to a charge of statutory rape?

Depending upon the laws of your state, you may have one or more defenses readily available. Your defense attorney will be able to evaluate your case and determine whether you should attempt to use one of the below defenses or enter into a plea bargain with the prosecutor.

  • Rape by fraud or "adult impersonation"

Unlike some other types of sex crimes, statutory rape uses a strict liability standard. This means that even if the person committing statutory rape truly believed that the victim was old enough (or otherwise able) to give consent, they may still be liable for the crime. However, some states recognize an exception to the strict liability rules governing statutory rape, called adult impersonation or rape by fraud.

In rape by fraud, the perpetrator must be able to demonstrate that the victim provided the perpetrator with evidence -- more than merely stating that he or she was at or above the age of consent -- that he or she was legally able to consent to sexual activity. For example, if the victim has a fake identification card and used this to purchase cigarettes or alcohol in the perpetrator's presence, it is possible that the perpetrator would later have a viable defense that he or she believed that the victim could consent to sex.

  • Romeo and Juliet laws

All states have laws governing the age of majority, as well as the age at which an individual can consent to sexual activity. The latter ages range from 16 to 18. However, many states have carved out an exception to these provisions protecting relationships between individuals who are both below the age of consent, as well as those who are close in age with one participant below the age of consent. Called "Romeo and Juliet" laws, these can provide a safe harbor for those in their teens or early twenties who have engaged in a sexual relationship with a consenting (but young) individuals.

Depending on the jurisdiction, Romeo and Juliet laws may not completely eliminate criminal penalties for statutory rape, but can serve as a defense to these charges. You may be able to bring these charges down to a misdemeanor (rather than a felony) or avoid being placed on your state's sex offender registry.

When should you pursue a plea bargain for statutory rape?

In some cases, you may be better off pleading guilty and accepting a lesser sentence rather than investing time and expense into a trial. One example includes the situation in which the relationship has resulted in a pregnancy (either for the perpetrator or the victim). In strict liability states without fraud or Romeo and Juliet exceptions, you'll be unable to deny the existence of a sexual relationship and will be adjudged guilty -- the only question is your sentence. By seeking a plea bargain, you may be able to negotiate a reduced sentence or even avoid jail time altogether. Talk with your criminal defense lawyer to see what his advice would be before making a final decision.