A common misconception about rape is that sex must be forced. Statutory rape laws, however, make it illegal to have sex with a minor even if the minor gave their consent. According to Arizona law, consensual sexual intercourse with an individual under the age of 18 is considered statutory rape. Even though a minor may have “consented” to the act, in the eyes of the law, the act is still considered a sex crime because minors are presumed unable to give informed consent to sexual activity. For example, if a 21-year-old male has sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend, the man can be charged with statutory rape even if his girlfriend consented.
Statutory rape is considered a felony offense in Arizona, with punishment depending on the age of the victim and the age difference between the victim and the offender. Sexual conduct with a minor between the ages of 15 and 18 is a class 6 felony, while sexual conduct with a minor younger than 15 is a class 2 felony. The degree of punishment may also depend on the offender’s relationship with the minor. Statutory rape is elevated to a class 2 felony if the defendant was the victim’s parent (step-parent or adoptive parent), foster parent or legal guardian, teacher, or priest or clergyman.
In order to be found guilty of this offense, the prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant knowingly and intentionally engaged in sex with the minor. A skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to apply one of the following defenses to a case:
- No sexual conduct took place
- The defendant could not have reasonably known that the victim was under the age of 18
Arizona has what is called a “Romeo and Juliet law,” or close-in-age exemption, that is designed to protect underage couples from prosecution if they engage in consensual sex, are at least 15 years old, and are less than two years apart in age. Depending on the circumstances, this may either prevent the couple from being prosecuted completely or may provide a defense that can be used in the event of prosecution.
A statutory rape conviction could result in one or more years in prison, depending on the circumstances, as well as sex offender registry. It is important to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help defend you against these charges and potentially help you avoid maximum penalty.
If you or a loved one has been charged with statutory rape in Arizona, do not delay in contacting a Phoenix criminal defense attorney at Suzuki Law Offices, L.L.C. We stand ready to vigorously defend you against your charges and preserve your freedom. We understand that you are innocent until proven guilty and will handle your case with all of the professionalism it deserves.
See what our decades of experience can do for you. Request a free and confidential case evaluation today.