Statutory Rape and Statutory Sex Offenses

There are few crimes prosecuted more aggressively than rape and forcible sex offenses, especially when the victim of the crime is a minor. These crimes are known legally as “statutory rape” and “statutory forcible sex offenses”, which carry steep penalties if convicted including lengthy prison sentencing and lifelong registration as a sex offender and status as felon.

While rape and forcible sex offenses against adult need to consider whether the alleged victim gave consent to the sexual act, statutory sex offenses presume a lack of consent based on the age of the alleged victim and perpetrator. In essence, while in rape cases involving adults it is not enough to prove a sexual act happened to be proven guilty, in statutory rape cases proof of the sexual act can lead to a conviction.

All sex crimes charges must be taken seriously. No matter the circumstances you are facing, our North Carolina sex crimes defense lawyers will investigate your case and determine what needs to be done to protect your best interests. We know how complicated these cases can be.

person charged with statutory rape getting fignerprints taken

How Does North Carolina Define Statutory Rape?

The terms “rape” and “forcible sex offense” may seem redundant but have specific meaning in North Carolina law that differ from some other state law definitions. The following are some key definitions in North Carolina sex offense law:

  • Rape: While many definitions of rape refer to any sexual intercourse carried out by force and against the victim’s consent; in North Carolina it strictly refers to vaginal intercourse perpetrated by force without consent.
  • Sex Offense: A forcible sex offense happens when force is used to perpetrate a “sexual act” that is not vaginal intercourse.
  • Sexual Act: Sexual acts include cunnilingus, fellatio, analingus, or anal intercourse, but not vaginal intercourse. It also includes the use of an object to penetrate a person’s anus or genitalia. These acts are the basis for forcible sex offenses that are not considered rape.

While the key underlying issue in forcible sex offenses involving is that the other party did not agree to or consent to the sexual act, for crimes involving children a lack of consent is presumed by their age.

The age of consent in North Carolina is 16, meaning that anybody below that age is considered unable to consent to sexual intercourse with an adult, even if they say they agreed to it. For children between 13 and 15 years old, they cannot consent to sexual acts with somebody 6 or more years older. Children under 13 years old are not considered able to consent to any sexual acts. 

Types of Statutory Sex Crimes

Statutory sex crimes in North Carolina are either rape, forcible sex offenses, or illegal sex acts by a person in a position of authority over a minor. The degree to which the crime is punished is largely based on the age of the victim, the age of the perpetrator, and whether the perpetrator had custody or some authority over the child, such as being the child’s parent or teacher.

Statutory Rape of a Child by an Adult

A person commits this crime if they are an at least 18 years old and engage in vaginal intercourse with a child under the age of 13 years.

A conviction of the crime is punished as a class B1 felony, but with a minimum prison sentence of at least 300 months, as opposed to the 144-month minimum for B1 felonies. An even greater sentence can be issued, up to and including a life sentence without parole, if the court finds more “aggravating factors, or that the harm inflicted in the offense goes beyond what is typically found for these crimes. What is defined as an aggravating factor in the law is rather vague, but can possibly include:

  • Committing the act against the victim on several occasions over a long period of time
  • Impregnating the victim
  • Inflicting severe emotional or physical pain, abuse, or mutilation
  • Transmission of a sexually transmitted disease to the victim
  • When the victim is of an extraordinarily young age

If and when the prison term has ended, the person is required to enroll as a sex offender and is required to endure satellite-based monitoring for life.  This essentially means that their location will be tracked at nearly all times, and the person is held responsible for making sure the device remains on charged, functional and on their person.

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First-degree Statutory Rape

A person commits this crime if they engage in vaginal intercourse with a child less than 13 years old, when they, the defendant, was at least 12 years old but under 18 years old, and at least 4 years older than the victim. Essentially, this crime is like the one above but for teens who commit the offense. 

A conviction of the crime is punished as a class B1 felony. If the victim becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child resulting from the rape, the offender will not have any rights to the child including inheritance and custody.

Statutory Rape of a Person who is 15 years of Age or Younger

A person commits this crime if they engage in vaginal intercourse with another person who is at least 12 years old but less than 16 years old, when they, the defendant, was at least 12 years old and at least four years older than the victim.

If the defendant was more than four years older than the victim but less than six years older, they will be guilty of a class C felony upon conviction. If the defendant was at least six years older than the victim, they will be guilty of a class B1 felony upon conviction.

The law does offer an interesting exception in the case where the defendant and alleged victim have been lawfully married, though this is an unlikely thing to occur today given that the legal age of marriage with parental consent is 16 in North Carolina.

Statutory Sexual Offense with a Child by an Adult

A person commits this crime if they are 18 years old or older and engage in a sexual act that is not vaginal intercourse with a child under the age of 13.

Punishment for this crime is roughly the same as statutory rape of a child by an adult. A conviction of the crime is punished as a class B1 felony, but with a minimum prison sentence of at least 300 months, as opposed to the 144-month minimum for B1 felonies. An even greater sentence can be issued, up to and including a life sentence without parole, if the court finds more “aggravating factors, or that the harm inflicted in the offense goes beyond what is typically found for these crimes. What is defined as an aggravating factor in the law is rather vague, but can possibly include:

  • Committing the act against the victim on several occasions over a long period of time
  • Inflicting severe emotional or physical pain, abuse, or mutilation
  • Transmission of a sexually transmitted disease to the victim
  • When the victim is of an extraordinarily young age

If and when the prison term has ended, the person is required to enroll as a sex offender and is required to endure satellite-based monitoring for life.  This essentially means that their location will be tracked at nearly all times, and the person is held responsible for making sure the device remains on charged, functional and on their person.

First-degree Statutory Sexual Offense

A person commits this crime if they engage in a sexual act that is not vaginal intercourse with a child less than 13 years old, when they, the defendant, was at least 12 years old but under 18 years old, and at least 4 years older than the victim. Essentially, this crime is like the one above but for teens who commit the offense. 

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class B1 felony.

Statutory Sexual Offense with a Person who is 15 Years of Age or Younger

A person commits this crime if they engage in a sexual act that is not vaginal intercourse with another person who is at least 12 years old but less than 16 years old, when they, the defendant, was at least 12 years old and at least four years older than the victim.

Like the statutory rape version of this law, if the defendant was more than four years older than the victim but less than six years older, they will be guilty of a class C felony upon conviction. If the defendant was at least six years older than the victim, they will be guilty of a class B1 felony upon conviction.

Sexual Activity with a Student

A person commits this crime if they are a school personnel (e.g. teacher, administrator, coach, etc) at any age, and engage in any sexual act with a victim who is a student who is attending the same school the defendant is employed at. This act can be committed at any time so long as the student is still enrolled at the same school the defendant is employed at, so it does not require that the sexual act took place on school grounds.

If the defendant is less than four years older than the student, they will be guilty of a class I felony if convicted. If they were at least four or more years older than the student, they will be guilty of a class G felony

Sexual Activity by a Substitute Parent or Custodian

A person commits this crime when they have assumed the position of a parent or has custody of a minor and engages in any sexual act with that minor victim. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class E felony

This crime differs somewhat from statutory offenses in that it specifies that the victim can be any “minor”, which is a person under the age of 18, while statutory offenses are made against victims under the age of 16. This is because while the age of consent in North Carolina is 16, there are circumstances like this, where they perpetrator is considered to have an authority over the victim, such that any non-adult is considered unable to consent to sexual activity.

Generally, this crime is reserved for people who take temporary or indefinite custody over a minor but are not related to the minor through blood or marriage. Crimes involving a parent or relative engaging in intercourse with their child or child-relative are more serious crimes that are covered under North Carolina’s incest statute, as described below.

Incest with Children

Incest refers to sexual intercourse between closely related people, which typically means family members and relatives whether they are related by blood or through marriages. North Carolina has a separate statute for incestual crimes from other sex offenses, where it punished all people involved in cases of incest including:

  • Siblings (whole or half-blood)
  • Grandparents and Parents
  • Children (including stepchildren and legally adopted children)
  • Uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews

While this can include incest between adults, the statute is heavily focused on incestuous acts performed against children, and anybody under the age of 16 is not liable to incest crimes so long as the other person was at least four years older than them.

If a person commits an incestual act against a child under the age of 13, when they, the defendant, are at least 12 years old and at least four years older than the child, they will be guilty of a class B1 felony. If a person commits an incestual act against a child older than 12 but younger than 16 and are more than four but not less than 6 years older than the child, they will be guilty of a class C felony.

Other incest crimes, meaning those not involving adults committing acts against children, are punished as a class F felony.

Defending Against Statutory Rape Charges

In a sex offense case, as in other criminal cases, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. For statutory rape charges, this means proving that you did engage in the sexual act. It is essential that you hire an experienced attorney, as these cases are not treated lightly, and law enforcement, judges and juries can be heavily biased against certain people accused of these crimes.

Part of building a solid defense is understanding the specific factors involved and knowing what kinds of approaches may or may not be valid. Statutory rape cases are especially difficult to defend because the valid approaches to defense are extremely limited by the laws in place and precedent set by past cases.

It is especially important to know that the following are not valid defenses:

  • Consent: Even if the alleged victim claims they consented to the act, this does not acquit the defendant of statutory offenses because a child victim is deemed incapable of providing consent.
  • Mistake of Age: It is a common misconception that you can get away with statutory rape charges by claiming you did not know the alleged victim was underage, but this is not a valid defense in North Carolina and many other states. Essentially, North Carolina law expects that any adult does their due diligence to not engage in a sexual act with anybody they think may be underage, even if the alleged victim lied about their age.

So how can these charges be defended? Generally, the best approach is to investigate the evidence presented and the extent to which the sexual acts occurred, if they occurred at all.

Some valid defenses, depending on the case, include:

  • Malicious false allegations and testimony from the victim(s) or witness(es)
  • Mistaken identity of a suspect
  • Poor chain of custody for handling evidence, such as DNA evidence samples.
  • Unfavorable bias from law enforcement or prosecutors on the basis of the defendant’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; or bias in favor of the alleged victim on the basis of any of those factors.

Our legal team also understands that, in some cases, the best defense strategy is to focus on reducing the penalties that our client is facing. Ultimately, our sex offense attorneys always give each case the individualized attention that it deserves.

Request a Consultation with Tarlton | Polk Sex Crime Attorneys

If you are facing false charges, our criminal defense lawyers are prepared to fight aggressively so that you can clear your reputation. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty, and you should not be held responsible for a crime that you did not commit.

 

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