Rape cases are prevalent in the news — from Brock Allen Turner, a Stanford University swimmer convicted of rape last year, to Bill Cosby’s current criminal case.

In those cases, intent seems clear; the victims involved allegedly were all under the influence of different drugs, which could very easily have affected their consciousness.

In some cases, however, it’s not so black and white, especially in one type called statutory rape.

What Is Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape differs from other types of rape in that, if all participants are over the age of consent (in California, that’s 18 years old), the act is considered a crime even if the minors involved do give their consent. And in cases where there is force or coercion involved, it may be considered aggravated rape or child molestation.

It is important to note that California does not consider the defense that the perpetrator believed the victim was not a minor, nor does it have an exemption such as the “Romeo and Juliet laws,” which are often made to prevent the prosecution of individuals engaging in sexual activity that is consented and/or between two people particularly close in age.

What Are the Charges?

The charges for statutory rape vary from misdemeanor (commonly charged if there is an age gap of three or fewer years between the defendant and victim per Penal Code section 261.5(b)) to a felony (commonly charged if the victim is under 16 years old and the defendant is older than 21 (Penal Code sections 261.5(c) and (d)).

While there is no “Romeo and Juliet exemption,” a reasonable belief of consent and a small age difference may lessen the degree of the misdemeanor/fine.

There are civil penalties, too! When the adult perpetrator is less than two years older than the minor, the fine could be up to $2,000. If the adult is at least two years older, the fine could be as high as $5,000. If the adult is at least three years older, the fine could be $10,000!

If the adult is over 21 and the minor is under 16, the fine could be up to $25,000!

And, the district attorney has the authority to recover these fines, even though they are referred to as “civil” penalties. See Penal Code sections 261.5(e)(1) and (2).

When considering all the facts and surrounding circumstances, it is significant to note that statutory rape is punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony. But in either case, it does not require registration as a sex offender.

Are There Immigration Consequences of a Statutory Rape Conviction?

Yes! A noncitizen defendant convicted of statutory rape could suffer harsh immigration consequences, such as deportation, denial of re-entry, loss of permanent resident status and more.

Under immigration law, statutory rape is classified as a “crime involving moral turpitude,” and a crime of “domestic violence” because the offense is committed against a minor child. It is also deemed an “aggravated felony,” for the same reason.

Seeking an Attorney’s Advice

There are complex legal issues at every stage of criminal prosecutions. Knowing which motions to file to delay your case, investigate witnesses or force a beneficial plea bargain is critical.

If you’re being investigated for a crime or if you’ve already been charged, you should contact a criminal defense attorney to better understand your situation. This ensures that you’ll know more about your legal options moving forward and will be able to make well-informed decisions about your case.

Sanford Horowitz is a partner with Horowitz Law in Santa Barbara. The opinions expressed are his own. This article is not intended to provide legal advice. For legal advice on any of the information in this post, click here for the form or phone number on the Horowitz Law contact us page.