What To Know If You’ve Been Charged With Statutory Rape In North Carolina
The term “statutory rape” can have different meanings in various states and contexts. In some states, statutory rape is defined as any sexual act involving a person under the age of 18. Other states define the offense based on the ages of the alleged perpetrator and alleged victim. As such, if you are facing any kind of criminal charges related to statutory rape in North Carolina, it is critical to understand the specific elements of the charges you are facing and begin working with an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney who can develop a defense strategy based on the facts of your particular case.
Statutory rape charges are often misunderstood, and our North Carolina statutory rape defense lawyers want to make sure you have the information you need as you start looking for legal representation and considering the options available to defend yourself against the charges you are facing. The following are 10 things you should know about statutory rape charges in North Carolina, including critical information about the elements of various statutory rape charges in the state and the consequences you may face if you are convicted.
1. Statutory Rape is Not a Single Criminal Offense
There is no single statutory rape charge under North Carolina law. Rather, North Carolina statutory rape laws include a number of sex offenses related to an adult engaging in sex acts with a minor. Those laws include but are not limited to the following:
- Statutory rape of a child by an adult (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.23): This offense can be charged when an adult 18 years or older engages in vaginal intercourse with a child who is under the age of 13.
- First degree statutory rape (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.24): This offense can be charged when a person (the defendant) has vaginal intercourse with a child who is under the age of 13 years old, and that child is at least four years younger than the defendant, and the defendant is at least 12 years old (i.e., a 16-year-old could be charged with this offense if the state alleges vaginal intercourse occurred with a child who was 12 years old).
- Statutory rape of a person 15 years old or younger (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.25): This offense can be charged when vaginal intercourse occurs between a child aged 15 or younger and a defendant who is four years older or more (The charge increases when the defendant is six years older or more).
- Statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.28): This offense can be charged when there is oral or anal intercourse, or penetration with an object or body part (other than vaginal intercourse), between a minor aged 12 or younger and a defendant aged 18 or older.
- First degree statutory sexual offense (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.29): This offense can be charged when there is oral or anal intercourse, or penetration with an object or body part (other than vaginal intercourse), between a minor aged 12 or younger and a defendant who is four years older or more.
- Statutory sexual offense with a person who is 15 years old or younger (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.30): This offense occurs when there is oral or anal intercourse, or penetration with an object or body part (other than vaginal intercourse), between a minor aged 15 or younger and a defendant who is four years older or more (and the charge increases when the defendant is six years older or more).
- Sexual activity by a substitute parent or custodian (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.31): This offense can be charged when there is vaginal intercourse, oral or anal sex, or any other kind of penetration between an adult and a minor when the adult has taken on the role of a parent or guardian.
Depending upon the particular facts of the case, defendants who are facing statutory rape charges may face more than one of the charges listed above.
2. Age of the Alleged Victim and Alleged Perpetrator Can Make a Difference in Determining the Charges in a Particular Case
As you can see from the above descriptions of statutory sex offenses under North Carolina law, the age of the alleged victim and the age of the defendant can make a significant difference in determining the specific charges. Some types of statutory rape and related offenses can only occur when the alleged victim is 12 years old or younger, and others can only occur when the alleged victim is 15 years old or younger.
In some of the offenses described above, the age difference between the alleged victim and the defendant can impact the seriousness of the offense charged and the possible penalties upon conviction. For example, in the crime of “statutory rape of a person 15 years old or younger,” the offense is charged as a Class B1 felony when the defendant is six years or more older than the alleged victim. However, the offense is charged as a Class C felony when the defendant is between four and six years older than the alleged victim. Similarly, the same distinctions apply to the crime of “statutory sexual offense with a person who is 15 years old or younger.”
3. Cases Involving Teachers and Students Can Result in a Separate Charge
North Carolina has a particular criminal offense for statutory rape and related charges involving a teacher and a student. Under North Carolina law (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.32), any of the following individuals may face charges for “sexual activity with a student” if the employee is at least four years older than the student and engages in vaginal intercourse or another sexual act with that student:
- School administrator;
- Student teacher;
- School safety officer; or
4. Convictions Can Result in Substantial Terms of Imprisonment
The penalties upon conviction of statutory rape and other sex offenses we have outlined can vary depending upon the specific offense charged but generally speaking these offenses are almost always felony offenses. Possible penalties can include:
- Class B1 felony: You can face a term of imprisonment of 144 months to life in prison without parole if you are convicted. These offenses include statutory rape of a child by an adult, first degree statutory rape, statutory rape of a person 15 years old or younger when the defendant is six years older or more, statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult, first degree statutory sexual offense, and statutory sexual offense with a person who is 15 years old or younger when the defendant is six years older or more.
- Class C felony: You can face a term of imprisonment of 44 months to 182 months upon conviction. These offenses include statutory rape of a person 15 years old or younger when the defendant is four years older or more but less than six years older, and statutory sexual offense with a person who is 15 years old or younger when the defendant is four years older or more but less than six years older.
- Class E felony: You can face a term of imprisonment of 15 months to 63 months. These offenses include sexual activity by a substitute parent or custodian.
5. Statutory Rape Convictions Will Require Sex Offender Registration
All statutory sex offense convictions in North Carolina, from statutory rape to the other offenses we have discussed here, require registration on the Sex Offender Registry. Indeed, any “reportable conviction” requires registration, and a number of sex offenses involving minors not mentioned here require registration, such as sexual exploitation of a minor or taking indecent liberties with children. In short, if you are convicted of an offense that the state of North Carolina considers to be either a sexually violent offense or an offense against a minor, you will be convicted of a “reportable conviction.”
It is important to note that being in a relationship with the minor who is the alleged victim, or having consent from the minor, are not defenses to statutory rape offenses. Accordingly, you cannot avoid registration on the Sex Offender Registry because the alleged victim consented to the sexual act or because you were in a relationship.
6. More Than One Defense Strategy May be Applicable to Your Case
Multiple defense strategies may be available in your case, such as:
- The alleged victim was either not actually a minor or was not below the age cited in the statute;
- You were not of the age difference required by the statute on the date of offense; or
- You were married to the alleged victim at the time of the offense.
7. Consent is Never a Legal Defense to Statutory Rape Charges in North Carolina, and Proof That You are in a Relationship with the Alleged Victim is Not a Defense Strategy You Can Use
As mentioned above, it is critical to understand that consent is never a defense to statutory rape. While it may be a defense to other sex offenses, the question of consent is not at issue in these cases since the offense is based only on the age and sexual act of the parties. Similarly, being in a relationship with the alleged victim is not a defense.
8. Consequences of a Statutory Rape Conviction Will Extend Far Beyond the Terms of Your Sentence
The statutory rape and related offenses discussed here can result in substantial penalties that often include sentences of imprisonment. Yet it is critical to understand that the consequences of a statutory rape conviction will extend well beyond the terms of the sentence. Once you have served your sentence, you will need to register on the Sex Offender Registry, which means your conviction will be searchable to anyone in your neighborhood, your place of employment, your child’s school, and anywhere else.
In addition, anyone who is a registered sex offender will not be able to live within 1,000 feet of a childcare center or a school, meaning that your housing options will be impacted by your conviction. Furthermore, you may be denied certain loans and credit, and you will likely be ineligible for a significant number of jobs.
9. You Will Not be Eligible to Have a Statutory Rape Charge Expunged
While many criminal offenses are eligible for expungement under North Carolina law, you should know that statutory sex offenses cannot be expunged under any circumstances. A petition for expunction under state law can only be filed for an eligible offense, and the law makes clear that any conviction that requires registration as a sex offender is ineligible. Accordingly, if you are convicted of any of the statutory sex offenses discussed here, the conviction will remain on your criminal record for the rest of your life. The conviction cannot be hidden from future employers, colleagues, or neighbors, even after you are no longer required to register on the Sex Offender Registry.
10. You Need a North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney on Your Side to Fight Any Statutory Rape Charges You are Facing
Given the great number of significant consequences listed above, you should never attempt to build your own defense without help from an experienced criminal defense attorney. The stakes are simply too high to move forward without an aggressive and experienced lawyer on your side. Our firm can talk with you today about how we tailor defense strategies to meet the needs of our clients, and we can further explain relevant defense strategies for your case once we have an opportunity to assess the facts.
Contact Our Skilled North Carolina Sex Crimes Defense Lawyers Today
Anytime you are facing charges related to sex offenses, including statutory rape offenses, it is essential to have an aggressive North Carolina criminal defense lawyer on your side. As we emphasized above, the consequences of a conviction can extend far beyond any initial term of imprisonment, potentially requiring registration on the Sex Offender Registry for the rest of your life, as well as a wide variety of social and cultural consequences. You need to do everything you can to develop a strong defense to the charges you are facing in order to avoid a conviction. Do not wait to contact a criminal defense lawyer.
Whether you have just been arrested or you have already been charged with a sex offense related to statutory rape, our firm can evaluate your case in order to determine the best possible defense strategies given the particular facts surrounding your arrest. Contact the Roberts Law Group, PLLC today to begin working with an experienced criminal defense attorney.