Legal Dictionary


Definition of Statutory Rape

Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a Person Under 18

Statutory rape—which is also referred to as "sex with a minor" or "unlawful sexual intercourse"—is defined as the act of engaging in sexual intercourse with a person who is younger the statutory age of consent. In the state of California, any person under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to engage in sexual acts. This means that, regardless of whether or not the sex was consensual, you could be charged with statutory rape if you engage in sexual intercourse with a minor as an individual over the age of 18.

In the state of California, the crime of statutory rape is prosecuted under Penal Code § 261.5. In the context of this crime, sexual intercourse is defined as any penetration of the vagina or genitalia by the penis, no matter how slight. Consent by the victim is not relevant in cases of statutory rape—since a minor cannot consent to sex—and is, therefore, not a viable defense to this crime. In many cases, the perpetrator could still be convicted even if they mistakenly believed that the minor was an adult.

How Statutory Rape Is Punished in California

Statutory rape cases are unique in the sense that both the victim and perpetrator's age will be taken into consideration when determining the severity of the resulting criminal charges. This crime is a "wobbler" in California, which means that it could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony. For example, if the age difference between the victim and the defendant is no more than three years, the crime will likely be treated as a misdemeanor—which is still punishable by up to one year in jail.

If the perpetrator is more than three years older than the victim, the state could choose to prosecute the case as either a misdemeanor or felony offense; however, if the defendant is at least 21 years old and the victim is younger than 16, it is likely that the case will be tried as a felony—although it is still possible that misdemeanor sentencing would apply. If an individual is convicted of felony statutory rape in California, they could expect to be sentenced to two, three or four years in state prison.

Is sex offender registration required for this crime?

Under California Penal Code § 261.5, anyone who is convicted of statutory rape in the state is NOT required to register as a sex offender. However, if the defendant is convicted of engaging in oral or anal sex with a minor, in violation of Penal Code Sections 288a or 286, they may be subject to sex offender registration. On another note, an individual could face an added one year in prison if they are convicted of felony statutory rape and the crime was committed for money or another consideration.

For more information about statutory rape laws in California, click here.