Statutory rape, known in Pennsylvania as statutory sexual assault, is charged when an individual has sexual relations with a minor who cannot legally consent to the act. Many defendants ask the same question of their criminal attorneys: is it illegal if you didn’t know they were underage? As with many legal questions, the answer depends on the details of the situation. If you have been accused of statutory rape, you should consult with an experienced defense lawyer. The Philadelphia rape defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Lloyd Long is prepared to help you fight your statutory rape charge. Lloyd Long is here to explain whether you can be charged with statutory rape if the other party lied about their age.
Statutory Sexual Assault Vs. Rape
Before we can discuss the nuances of Pennsylvania’s statutory rape laws, we need to cover the distinction Pennsylvania’s legislation makes between rape and sexual assault. In some states, these offenses are considered one and the same – but in Pennsylvania, they carry distinct definitions.
As of 2015, Pennsylvania does not have a statutory rape law. The pertinent statute, formerly located at 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3122, was repealed in March of 1995 because the offense’s original definition shifted.
After the statute was repealed, it was replaced with 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3122.1, which renamed the offense to statutory sexual assault. The difference is that rape – under Pennsylvania’s legal definition – inherently involves nonconsensual penetration plus some element of violence, force, or threat-making, including impairing the victim with drugs or alcohol.
By comparison, sexual assault is defined strictly as “sexual intercourse… without the complainant’s consent,” thus excluding the violence component which must be present in rape charges (with the exception of rape being charged when the victim suffers from a mental disability). Therefore, a defendant need not use violence or coercion to be charged with statutory sexual assault, nonconsensual penetration alone is sufficient to result in criminal charges.
The underlying concept behind the statutory rape charge is that victims are inherently unable to consent, because they are below the age of consent – even if they willingly participate. No amount of willingness or emotional devotion on the part of the victim is a defense to statutory rape charges, because the charge arises from the victim’s age, not from their attitude toward the sexual activity. The age of consent is 16 in Pennsylvania, but varies across the U.S. In some states, such as California and Florida, the age of consent is 18 years.
Is Mistake of Age a Defense to Statutory Rape in PA?
Unfortunately for defendants, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3102 explicitly states that ignorance of the victim’s age is not a defense – at least, not under certain circumstances. The statute states that if the victim is less than 14 years old, “it is no defense that the defendant did not know the age of the child or reasonably believed the child to be the age of 14 years or older.”
However, the same statute also provides that, “when criminality depends on the child’s being below a critical age older than 14 years, it is a defense for the defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she reasonably believed the child to be above the critical age.” In other words, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to show that he or she had good reason to believe the child was of age. This means that something like a false ID or explicit statements from the victim guaranteeing they were over 16 or over 18 could help your case, but you have the burden of proving why you believed they were older.
What are the Penalties for Statutory Rape?
18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3122.1 makes statutory sexual assault a second or first degree felony, depending on the nature of the alleged offense. This offense is graded as a second degree felony when the defendant “engages in sexual intercourse with a” non-spouse who is 15 years old or younger. Statutory sexual assault becomes a first degree felony if the defendant is 11 or more years, older, than the minor.
In Pennsylvania, potential penalties for a second degree felony include a fine of $25,000 and a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The maximum fine for a first degree felony is the same, but the maximum sentence doubles to 20 years.
Philadelphia, PA Sexual Assault Defense Attorney Here to Help You Fight Your Sexual Assault Charges
If you or a family member has been charged with statutory sexual assault, you should speak with an experienced rape defense attorney. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lloyd Long can help you fight against a sexual assault allegation. The Law Offices of Lloyd Long have represented numerous clients in various forms of sexual offenses, like involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, rape, or indecent exposure, and we will use this experience to serve you. To schedule a free consultation, contact us at (215) 302-0171.