UNDERSTANDING STATUTORY RAPE LAWS IN NORTH CAROLINA
Few criminal charges are more serious than sex crimes. And when the allegations involve a minor, the stigma is even worse. You can be charged with a felony-level offense for having sexual intercourse with someone under the age of consent even if it was, in fact, a consensual encounter.
This situation frequently arises when a teenaged girl has a boyfriend who is several years older. Before long, law enforcement is knocking on the boyfriend’s door, and he ends up in county jail facing charges for a criminal sexual offense.
At Roberts Marcilliat & Mills PLLC, we’re committed to fighting for those accused of these serious charges. No matter the situation, you can count on our lawyers to protect your rights 100 percent of the way.
What Is Statutory Rape?
North Carolina has multiple laws addressing sexual assault, from forcible rape to indecent liberties to child sexual abuse. These offenses can lead to years in prison and mandatory registration as a sex offender.
Statutory rape, however, stands apart from the other offenses because the acts involved are often consensual. Yet, in North Carolina, teenagers under age 16 are deemed legally unable to consent. As a result, an adult who has sex with someone under the age of consent will face strict liability – meaning the state does not have to prove the accused had any bad intent, and consent is not a defense.
What Level Of Offense Is Statutory Rape In North Carolina?
Statutory rape is a felony-level sex offense. The level of the charge depends in part on the age gap between the parties:
- If there is a 4- to 6-year age difference, it’s a class C felony.
- If there is a 6-plus year age difference, it’s a class B1 felony (which is more serious than class C).
The age of the younger party and the exact activities that occurred also impact the level of the charge:
- First-degree statutory rape involves vaginal intercourse with a person under age 13, when the defendant is at least four years older.
- Statutory rape of a child by an adult involves vaginal intercourse with a person under age 13, when the defendant is at least 18 years old.
- Statutory sexual offense with a child involves engaging in sexual acts (which is a broader term than sexual intercourse) with a child under age 13 when the defendant is 18 or older. A similar offense covers sexual acts with someone aged 15 or younger when the defendant is at least six years older.
- The first-degree statutory sexual offense occurs when the defendant engages in sexual acts with a child under age 13, and the defendant is at least four years older.
All these offenses are class B1 felonies.
What Is The “Romeo And Juliet” Exception?
Statutory rape laws in North Carolina are defined to include a “Romeo and Juliet” exception. This means two teenagers who have consensual sexual relations can’t be charged with statutory rape (or statutory sexual offense) if they’re within four years of age. Thus a 17-year-old could not face sex-offense charges for having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend.
The definition of statutory sex offenses also excludes couples who are legally married.
How Is Statutory Rape Punished By Law In North Carolina?
As a felony-level sex crime, statutory rape is punishable by prison time, among other consequences.
The penalties for statutory rape in North Carolina depend largely on the type of offense and the defendant’s criminal history.
- Statutory rape of a child (under age 13) by an adult and statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult: Both of these charges carry a minimum punishment of 300 months (25 years) in jail. After that, the defendant must register as a sex offender and may be subjected to GPS monitoring for life. In cases that are unusually brutal or severe, the court may impose a longer sentence, even up to life in prison without parole.
- First-degree statutory rape (involving a child under age 13 and a defendant at least four years older) carries a minimum sentence of 144 months (12 years) in prison, followed by sex offender registration and possible GPS monitoring for life.
- Class C statutory rape or statutory sexual offense (when the defendant is within 6 years of age): These offenses carry a prison sentence of 44 to 182 months (3.5 to 15 years).
As you can see, these are extremely serious penalties. They involve spending years – if not decades – of your life behind bars, and most also involve the added burden of mandatory registration as a sex offender.
How To Avoid Charges In The First Place
There are a few common ways these cases come to the attention of law enforcement. Often, a disgruntled parent contacts the police after learning their teenaged daughter is in a relationship with an older guy. Other times, teachers or health-care workers – who are mandated reporters, meaning they must comply with reporting requirements for suspected child abuse – may be the ones to notify law enforcement. And sometimes, the victim herself (or himself) may disclose the relationship, often after it has come to an end.
While there is no statute of limitations for felony-level sex offenses, charges are typically brought promptly, while the evidence is fresh.
When To Take Action
As soon you learn that you’re under investigation for statutory rape, your first step should be to contact our lawyers at Roberts Marcilliat & Mills PLLC. We can take important steps to protect your rights at this early stage of the process. We may even be able to stave off formal charges or get them dismissed, depending on the situation.
Rape, Sexual Assault, And Related Sex-Crime Definitions
It’s important to understand how statutory rape fits into North Carolina’s legal framework for sex offenses in general.
To do that, we need to start with some legal definitions:
- Rape: Under North Carolina law, rape is defined as engaging in sexual (vaginal) intercourse without the other person’s consent, with or without physical force.
- Statutory rape/statutory sexual offense: As outlined more fully above, these offenses involve a minor under 16 years of age and a defendant who is at least four years older.
- First-degree forcible rape: This offense involves engaging in vaginal intercourse by force, against the other person’s will. The prosecution must also prove that the defendant used (or threatened to use) a weapon, inflicted serious injury or was aided by at least one other person.
- Second-degree forcible rape: This offense involves engaging in vaginal intercourse by forcible compulsion, without the other person’s consent. It also covers date rape. While less serious than the first-degree felony offense, this charge is still a class C felony. A conviction carries serious consequences, including multiple years in prison and registration as a sex offender.
- First-degree forcible sexual offense: This charge has the same definition as first-degree forcible rape, but involves sexual acts (see definition below) rather than vaginal intercourse.
- Second-degree forcible sexual offense: This offense has the same definition as second-degree forcible rape, but involves sexual acts instead of sexual intercourse. It also covers date-rape scenarios that don’t culminate in full-fledged sexual intercourse.
- Sexual activity by a substitute parent or custodian: This charge applies when a foster parent, stepparent or another adult in the position of a parent engages in sexual conduct with a minor in the home. It also applies to employees of any person or institution who has custody of the children.
- Sexual activity with a student: This charge applies when school personnel – including teachers, administrators and coaches – have sexual relations with a student, and there is at least a four-year age gap between them.
- Indecent liberties with children: A class F felony, this offense involves “lewd or lascivious” sexual behavior involving a child under age 16. It applies if the defendant is at least 16 years old, and at least five years older than the alleged victim.
- Consent: In the context of sex offenses, consent in North Carolina means willing participation. A person can’t be deemed to have consented if they merely submitted (or didn’t fight back) due to threats, fear or coercion. In the case of statutory rape, the victim is deemed legally unable to consent by reason of age. Victims may also be deemed legally unable to consent due to incapacitation (physical or mental) or mental disability.
- Sexual assault: This broad term isn’t used in North Carolina statutes (although it is used by many other states to denote sex crimes). Instead, the terms “rape,” “sexual offense” and “sexual battery” are used. In everyday parlance, however, it refers to sexual acts that take place without the victim’s consent.
- Sexual abuse: Like “sexual assault,” this term isn’t the official name of an offense in North Carolina. Its everyday meaning typically refers to rape or sexual assault cases in the context of child abuse or an abusive romantic relationship between intimate partners. As a result, allegations of sexual abuse frequently accompany domestic violence charges.
- Sexual battery: This offense is defined as engaging in sexual contact (see definition below) by force, without the other person’s consent.
- Sexual acts: This phrase includes oral sex, anal sex, and penetration with an object.
- Sexual contact: This term refers to sexual touching (including the sexual organs, anus, breast, buttocks, and groin), whether directly or through the clothes. It also includes placing semen, urine, or feces on another person.
- Sexual harassment: In legal parlance, this term typically refers to unacceptable sexually suggestive behavior – including comments, jokes, and unwanted advancements – in the workplace. However, sexual harassment can cross the line into a sex offense when it involves unwanted touching.
If you are under investigation by law enforcement for any of these sex crimes, don’t wait to get help from our experienced legal team.
Why Hire Our Defense Lawyers For Statutory Rape Charges In NC?
If you’re facing charges – or are under investigation – for statutory rape in North Carolina, you need to hire an attorney as soon as possible. You’ll find aggressive legal allies at Roberts Marcilliat & Mills PLLC. We’re on your side.
Sex offenses like statutory rape require a different approach than other felonies. They often involve negative publicity. Our lawyers have decades of combined experience handling these charges. We know how to protect your privacy – and your right to a fair and impartial jury.
As the defendant in criminal proceedings, you have many rights. Chief among them is the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
That right, however, is harder to uphold in sex offenses than any other type of case. Mere allegations of sexual misconduct can lead the average person to automatically label you as a sex offender in their mind.
We know how to dispel that assumption by, first, weeding out jurors who likely won’t be fair and impartial and, second, presenting a strong case from start to finish.
If Your Case Goes To Trial…
Trials in sexual-offense cases present different challenges than other types of charges. The jury will hear lurid details about the sexual intercourse (or other sexual acts) that allegedly occurred. If you’re many years older than the alleged victim, the prosecution will drive that home, focusing on the victim’s young age and vulnerability. Our job is to keep the jury focused on the high standard of proof the prosecution must meet – beyond a reasonable doubt – and to raise plenty of reasonable doubts.
Our goal is to fight for the best possible outcome in your case – whether that means getting the charges dropped or reduced – and keeping you out of prison.
Our Success Stories
Over the years, our attorneys have helped numerous clients overcome serious charges of statutory rape and other statutory sex offenses:
- Charge dismissed: Our client, who was diagnosed with autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, and multiple learning disabilities, was charged with a statutory sexual offense involving his 13-year-old cousin. He stood to face upwards of 20 years in prison if convicted. He denied the allegations but, due to his disabilities, had trouble voicing a coherent defense. Upon securing a thorough mental evaluation, we were able to persuade the court that our client didn’t have the mental capacity to withstand trial, and the charges were dismissed. We also successfully defeated the prosecution’s attempt to get our client involuntarily committed.
- Charge dismissed: Our client was charged with a first-degree statutory sex offense for allegations involving his minor daughter. He faced 25 to 30 years in prison. By conducting a thorough investigation and presenting the expert opinions of a forensic specialist, child psychologist, and polygraph expert we ultimately convinced the prosecution to drop the charges.
- No charges filed: Our client was under investigation for statutory rape based on allegations his wife raised. By conducting a thorough investigation, we were able to show that the allegations were baseless, and no charges were filed.
- No charges filed: Our client faced the prospect of statutory rape charges when her minor son brought allegations against her. We conducted a thorough investigation, revealing that the son had accused others of serious misconduct in the past, and suffered from a mental health disorder. As a result, no charges were filed.
Read more of our outstanding case results.
Let Us Start Fighting For You
To get started building a strong defense, call our law firm at 919-838-6643 or reach out online. We have convenient offices throughout North Carolina.