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“They Said They Were 18 and I Believed Them”

Dec. 11, 2020

Facing charges of statutory rape – or more commonly known as sex with a minor – can be a very serious offense If you’ve been charged with this crime, do you know what your rights are? Is it enough to defend your actions by stating that your underage partner looked 18 or older, or even claimed they were? If convicted, what penalties will you face?

Section 261.5(a) of the California Penal Code states that “Unlawful sexual intercourse is 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, a minor is anyone under the age of 18.

Even if the sexual act is consensual – meaning both parties agree to it – it is still considered statutory rape by law, rather than sexual assault. If you’re convicted of statutory rape, the legal consequences and stigma can stay with you for a long time.

If you live in the Los Angeles, California, area and are facing statutory rape allegations or charges, don’t rely on a public defender. It is crucial that you work with an experienced sex crimes defense attorney immediately. The Alex Rose Law Firm stands ready to work with you to develop an aggressive defense strategy aimed at helping you clear your name.

Penalties for Statutory
Rape in California

Statutory rape in California is considered a “wobbler” offense. In other words, it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the age differential of the participants.

A misdemeanor charge of statutory rape usually occurs when the offender is no more than three years older than their sex partner. This crime typically carries a potential penalty of a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. A felony charge usually occurs if the offender is 21 years old or older and the victim is 16 years old or younger. Felony statutory rape penalties carry a fine of up to $10,000 and anywhere from 16 months to four years of jail time. Both offenses can lead to probation and even restraining orders, though those convicted do not currently have to register as a sex offender.

In addition to the statutory fines listed above, civil fines can also be levied depending on the age differential — $2,000 for an under-two-year differential, $5,000 for two years, $10,000 for three years, and $25,000 if the offender is 21 years old or older and the victim is 16 years old or younger.

The “He/She Looked 18” Defense

It’s common to hear those charged with statutory rape to say that the victim looked 18 or older. This is known in legal circles as a “Good Faith Belief,” but to use it, the defendant must show that this was a “reasonable belief,” one that any “reasonable adult” would also conclude.

California Criminal Jury Instruction 1071 states: "The defendant is not guilty of this crime if (he/she) reasonably and actually believed that the other person was age 18 or older. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not reasonably and actually believe that the other person was at least 18 years old. If the People have not met this burden, you must find the defendant not guilty of this crime.”

Given that it’s difficult to judge people’s age simply by looking at them, especially in the 15-to-25 age category, this can be a tough standard to meet in court, so additional proof of age must generally be offered.

The “He/She Claimed to Be 18” Defense

Even if the individual who is underage claimed to be 18, that may not be enough of a defense in court. You will have to back up that assertion with other first-hand evidence. For instance, did the underage individual:

  • Have car keys?

  • Have cigarettes in possession?

  • Have credit cards?

  • Talk about activities indicative of an adult, for instance, going to college, having a job, owning a car, living outside their parents’ home?

  • Let you into their home, which looked like something other than their parents’ residence?

Other factors include considerations of where and how you two met. Was it in an establishment that requires ID proof of 18 or older to enter? On a college campus? Through a dating app that requires actual proof of being 18 or older, other than just by clicking a button (i.e., by uploading a driver’s license image or other proof)?

Common Defenses to
Statutory Rape Charges

Some states, though not California, have enacted what are called “Romeo and Juliet” laws, which basically forgive under-age sex if the partners are close in age, perhaps one 18 and the other 17. However, in California, there is no law that provides leniency to two partners who are close in age.

Two of the most widely utilized defense strategies for statutory rape charges are, as discussed above, the claim that she/he looked 18, and the assertion that the partner claimed to be 18 or older. Both present their own challenges.

The age-claim defense can be bolstered if it can be shown that the under-age partner showed a fake ID. Meeting in an adult venue can also bolster both defenses, as it can be considered “reasonable” to assume the other person was 18 or older.

Another often-used defense is that sexual intercourse did not occur. The issue with this defense, however, is that the legal standard is any form of penetration and not consummation (ejaculation).

Contact Your Los Angeles Area
Sex Crimes Defense Attorney

Since 1993 my firm, the Law Office of Alec Ros, has represented over 2,000 clients in dozens of criminal trials involving sex crimes and other charges. I will work with you to develop a defense strategy that best fits the circumstances of your case and work hard to provide you with a viable chance of clearing your name.

If you live in the greater Los Angeles area or in Santa Barbara County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, San Diego County, or Riverside County, contact my office today to set up a free case consultation.