Facing any criminal charge is a difficult situation to find yourself in. A criminal conviction can follow you around for the rest of your life and complicate simple things like getting a loan or a job.
However, some crimes can have more of an impact than others. A conviction for statutory rape or any other sexual criminal offense can impact your life far more than a theft or shoplifting conviction.
If you face a statutory rape accusation, you are probably wondering, What is statutory rape? or, How long is a statutory rape sentence? Read on to find the answers to these and other questions about Minnesota’s statutory rape laws from our Minnesota criminal defense attorney.
What Is the Difference Between Rape and Statutory Rape?
The general colloquial definition of rape is engaging in sexual acts without the consent of one or more of the parties involved. Statutory rape is different in that both parties to the sexual act in question may technically consent to it.
Still, because of the relevant laws (or statutes), it is illegal and a criminal offense. Statutory rape is a crime because one of the parties involved is not yet at the age of consent. “Age of consent” refers to the age that one must be in order to legally consent to sexual acts.
Below that age, consent is not possible. Just like it is illegal for minors to possess firearms, it is illegal for persons under the age of consent to engage in sexual activity.
The age of consent differs between states but is generally age 15 or older. In Minnesota, the age of consent is 16 years old.
What Is Statutory Rape in Minnesota?
Minnesota prosecutes stautory rape at one of four degrees of sexual conduct. The most severely penalized level is first degree sexual misconduct while the least severe is fourth degree sexual misconduct.
Here, we will look into the legal definitions of each of the four levels. In the legal definitions there are two important terms that we must understand.
The first term is “sexual penetration.” Minnesota law states that sexual penetration includes oral sex, anal sex, and vaginal sex. Whenever a part of one person’s body penetrates a part of another person’s body, sexual penetration occurs.
We also need to know how Minnesota defines someone “in a position of authority over the minor.” Someone holds a position of authority over a minor when they are a parent or otherwise responsible for a minor’s supervision, wellbeing, or health. People in positions of authority over minors include teachers, babysitters, and parents.
Fourth degree statutory rape occurs when criminial sexual conduct occurs between a defendant and another person and one or more other criteria is met:
- The minor is under 13 years old and the defendant is no more than 36 months older than the minor;
- The minor is older than 13 years old, but under 16, and the defendant is more than 48 months older than the minor or is in a position of authority over the minor; or
- The minor is more than 16 years old, but less than 18 years old, and the defendant is in a position of authority over the minor and more than 48 months older than the minor.
If someone’s actions meet any of the latter three conditions in addition to sexual conduct between two individuals, the state can charge the defendant with fourth degree statutory rape.
Third degree statutory rape occurs when someone engages in sexual penetration with a minor and one or more of the following criteria is met:
- The minor is less than 13 years old, and the defendant is no more than 36 months older than them;
- The minor is more than 13 years old, but under 16, and the defendant is more than 24 months older than them; or
- The minor is more than 16 years old, but under 18, and the defendant is in a position of authority over the minor at the time of the incident and more than 48 months older than them.
The key determining factor between third and fourth degree statutory rape in Minnessota is whether or not penetration occurs.
Second degree statutory rape occurs in Minnesota when a person engages in sexual conduct that stops short of penetration with certain classes of minors. The relevant classes of minors are as follows:
- A minor less than 13 years old when the perpetrator is 36 months or more older than the minor; or
- A minor more than 13 years old yet less than 16 years old when the perpetrator is greater than 48 months older than the minor and in a position of authority over them.
By now, you should notice that the severity tends to depend on two factors: the age gap between the defendant and the victim and whether the sexual act included penetration.
First degree statutory rape is the most severe category of statutory rape. First degree statutory rape occurs when sexual penetration occurs between:
- A minor more than 13 years old and less than 16 years old when the perpetrator is more than 48 months older than the victim and in a position of authority over them; or
- A minor who is less than 13 years old and a perpetrator who is more than 36 months older than the victim.
Anybody whose actions meet the threshold of first or any other degree of statutory rape meets the legal requirements for a criminal statutory rape conviction in Minnesota.
Statutory Rape Penalties
The potential penalties for a statutory rape conviction in Minnesota are severe. A fourth degree statutory rape conviction can lead to up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
On the other end of the spectrum, first-degree statutory rape convictions can bring up to 30 years imprisonment, $40,000 in fines, or both.
There are other potential penalties for statutory rape, including sex offender registration, restrictions on where one can live, restraining orders, and restriction from any contact with minors.
These are just the state-imposed penalties, however. There are other potential penalties that the state does not impose but that are just as impactful.
With a statutory rape conviction, someone might lose their job, find it difficult to get a mortgage, lose their social status, or even lose their life partner.
Whether it is right or wrong, people often judge others harshly when they find out that they have a criminal conviction on their record. For those convicted of sexual crimes, the judgment is typically more extreme.
Defenses to Statutory Rape in Minnesota
As with other criminal offenses, there are defenses that one can raise against accusations of statutory rape. Not committing the crime is, of course, the best possible defense. But it is only the best defense when there is evidence to cast a reasonable shadow of doubt on the suspicion that the statutory rape occured.
Mistaken age is not typcally an affirmative defense against statutory rape in Minnesota except in specific instances. For such a defense to work, the following requirements must be met:
- The minor is at least 13 years old but less than 16 years old; and
- The defendant believed the minor was older than 16; and
- The defendant’s belief in the minor’s age was reasonable; and
- The defendant is no more than 120 months older than the minor.
Thus, the mistaken age defense applies only in limited circumstances.
There are two other common defenses against stautory rape in Minnesota. Marriage is one defense against statutory rape in Minnesota if the defendant and the minor were married at the time of the sexual activity, and both parties consented to the sexual activity, and the two parties were living together at the time of the alleged offense.
The other common defense against statutory rape is called the “Romeo and Juliet” exception. Romeo and Juliet exceptions exist in many states. Typically, they apply to minors engaging in consensual sexual activity with other minors.
In Minnesota, if a minor is more than 13 years old but less than 16 years old, another person can engage in consensual sexual activity with them without facing prosecution for stautory rape in specific circumstances.
When penetration occurs, this exception applies only if the older person is no more than 24 months older than the younger one.
If sexual penetration does not occur and the older person is less than 48 months older than the younger, the state cannot charge the older person with statuory rape.
If you are accused of statutory rape in Minnesota, you need to retain the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to craft the best possible defense for your case.
If Someone Accuses You of Statutory Rape in Minnesota
Everyone in our country who is accused of a crime is guaranteed certain constitutional rights. One of these rights is the right to a fair trial. Unfortunately, in practice, not everyone accused of a crime gets a fair trial and has their constitutional rights respected.
The best way to protect your constitutional rights in the criminal justice system is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
At Arechigo & Stokka, we are here to protect your rights. We have more than 20 years of experience defending our clients against criminal charges and have won hundreds of cases in that time.
If you are facing an accusation of statutory rape in Minnesota, let us help you maintain your freedom and ensure your rights are respected. Contact Arechigo & Stokka today for a free consultation!
Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.