In the state of California, it's illegal for someone 18 or older to have sex with someone younger than 18, even if the sex is consensual. This is considered statutory rape under state law. However, if you've been accused of this crime, you may be wondering if the law still applies if the alleged victim turns 18 while the statutory rape investigation is pending or if they don't report the crime until they're 19 or 20. While most cases may still be pursued after the victim turns 18, the answer depends on the statute of limitations that pertains to your case.
Statutory rape cases have a statute of limitations in California, which sets the maximum time for parties involved in the dispute to initiate legal proceedings. In short, the statute of limitations for statutory rape in California is either one year or three years depending on the circumstances of the case, the age of the victim, and the age difference between the victim and defendant. Here's what you need to know.
What is Statutory Rape?
According to California Penal Code (CPC) §261.5, statutory rape is defined by the following terms:
“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. For the purposes of this section, a “minor” is a person under the age of 18 years and an “adult” is a person who is at least 18 years of age.”
Statutory rape laws are based on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. The following elements, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, must be true:
- The defendant and alleged victim had sexual intercourse
- The alleged victim was under 18 years of age at the time of the incident
- The defendant and alleged victim weren't married at the time of the incident
It's important to note that, for the purpose of the statute, a person becomes one year older when the first minute of their birthday has begun.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Statutory Rape in California
The statute of limitations for statutory rape in California is either one year or three years, depending on if the charge is a misdemeanor or felony. For misdemeanor charges, it must be filed within one year. For felony charges, it must be filed within three years. This means that the case may be pursued even if the alleged victim turned 18 while the statutory rape investigation is pending, as long as it's within that one or three year period. However, if it's not filed within this timeframe, the charge may be dismissed.
Here's a breakdown of misdemeanor and felony charges for statutory rape in California:
Misdemeanor Statutory Rape Charges
In California, statutory rape is considered a misdemeanor if the intercourse was with a minor who is less than three years younger. Suppose the minor was more than three years younger. In that case, it's considered a "wobbler," meaning that the charge may be prosecuted either as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the prosecutor's discretion. The factors that will help them make this decision include the following:
- The severity of the crime
- Prior offenses
- Level of cooperation with law enforcement
- Likelihood of continued criminal activity
- The defendant's age
- The strength of the prosecutor's case
- Eligibility for probation
Remember that the statute of limitations for misdemeanor statutory rape cases is one year.
Felony Statutory Rape Charges
Statutory rape may be charged as a felony if the minor was under 16 and you were at least 21 at the time of the incident or the minor is at least three years younger than you were. These are also wobblers, meaning it's up to the prosecutor's judgment whether to pursue a felony or misdemeanor charge. If charged as a felony, the statute of limitations is three years.
Contact a Top California Statutory Rape Defense Lawyer at The Aron Law Firm
If you've been arrested for statutory rape and have additional questions about the statute of limitations, penalties, or anything else pertaining to your case, it's important that you get in touch with the experienced lawyers at the Aron Law Firm. Our best-in-class team of lawyers is dedicated to helping you defend your rights and protect your future. We'll investigate your case in detail, build a strong defense, and remain by your side throughout the legal process.
At the Aron Law Firm, we have years of experience helping protect clients from a variety of criminal charges, including statutory rape. We're committed to dedicating our full attention and care to each and every one of our clients. To talk with a high-level criminal defense attorney, schedule a consultation by calling (805) 618-1768 or completing our online contact form today.