The age of consent in the state of California is 18 years old. “Age of consent” refers to the legal age at which a person must be in order to legally engage in sexual intercourse. This law applies to all genders without exception. It is illegal for anyone over the age of 18 to have sex with a minor.

Unlike many states, California does not have a Romeo and Juliet statute. Here, we’ll go in-depth on the age of consent laws in California.

What Is The Age Of Consent In California?

Under California law, a person must be 18 years old or older to be able to legally have sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse with a person who is not of legal age will result in criminal prosecution, and possibly could be charged with statutory rape.

“Sexual intercourse” is described as any sexual penetration of the vagina or genitalia (however slight) by the penis. No ejaculation is required to take place.

Age of consent laws are meant to deter criminals and pedophiles who target children and minors. In the state of California, the statute of limitations for statutory rape is either 1 year for misdemeanor offenses, and 3 years for felony offenses.

What Is Statutory Rape In California?

Under California Penal Code 261.5, statutory rape occurs when an individual over the age of 18  engages in sexual intercourse with a minor. A person can be charged with statutory rape even if the minor had initiated the intercourse, or if the adult did not know that the other person was a minor.

California does not have a Romeo and Juliet law protecting minors and 18 – 19-year-olds. Romeo and Juliet laws protect couples who have been dating and having sexual intercourse prior to turning 18. For example, an 18-year-old could have intercourse with a 16-year-old if they had intercourse prior to turning the age of consent. If the 18-year-old never had intercourse with the 16-year-old prior to turning the age of consent, the law would deem this statutory rape.

Statutory rape is considered a wobbler crime. Wobbler crimes are crimes that are able to be considered felony or misdemeanor charges. Prosecutors may decide to pursue felony charges depending on the type of crime or the history of the defendant. The age difference and the severity of the crime will also have a major impact on whether or not felony charges will be pursued. For example, if the defendant is 21 years old and the victim is 16, prosecutors will most likely try to pursue felony charges.

Legal Definition of Rape In California

The legal definition of rape is the moment of sexual penetration, no matter how slight, of the male genitalia. California has expanded onto this law to include all forms of penetration, as well as penetration of objects. This could include oral copulation, anal intercourse, or cunnilingus.

Sexual intercourse must be considered non-consensual, forcible, or must involve threats. The most common forms of rape include forcible rape and situations where a person has been drugged or is severely intoxicated.

In the cases of sexual intercourse involving minors, minors cannot legally consent to intercourse. Depending on the severity and the circumstances of the sexual involvement, a person could be charged with unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, unlawful oral copulation, sexual penetration, or lewd and lascivious acts upon a minor.

Do You Have to Register as a Sex Offender for Statutory Rape?

Certain statutory rape offenses do not require a person to register as a sex offender in California. California Penal Code 290 PC requires sex offender registry of certain offenses, such as rape, anal intercourse, or lewd and lascivious acts upon a child.

Recently, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill allowing for judges to have discretion on whether or not to register someone as a sex offender. News outlets have been putting this bill on blast, stating that “California is allowing pedophiles to not register as sex offenders,” but this is simply untrue. Under California Senate Bill 145, judges may now waive sex offender registry for individuals who have had sexual intercourse with a minor over the age of 14, and not 10 years older than the minor. This includes sodomy, oral copulation, or penetration of a foreign object. This bill was aimed at helping LGBT individuals who have had consented to sexual or anal intercourse.

Defenses To Statutory Rape Charges

Every statutory rape situation is different, therefore it is imperative to contact an attorney. Some common defenses to statutory rape charges in California include:

1. False Accusations – situations where the alleged victim misidentifies the defendant or lies
2. Age of Consent – the alleged victim was of the age of consent
3. No Sexual Intercourse – in which two parties were both under the age of 18, no sexual intercourse or penetration had occurred.
4. If the alleged victim was in a bar or club where the age to enter is 21 years or older, or if they have shown false identification.

Consent is not a defense to statutory rape charges, as minors legally cannot consent to sexual intercourse. Believing that a child was of age would also not be a defense. If you have been charged with statutory rape, it’s imperative to contact an attorney immediately.

Potential Statutory Rape Charges

Depending on the severity of the crime, prosecutors could pursue either a misdemeanor or felony charges. Typically, the punishments will increase depending on how young the child was at the time. For misdemeanor charges, punishments can include probation, fines up to $1,000, a year in county jail, or a combination of these penalties. Felony convictions will result in a mandatory minimum of 16 months in county jail (or up to 8 years), probation, fines up to $10,000, or a combination of these penalties.

Repeat offenders could be court-ordered to be chemically castrated. A single conviction could result in court-ordered castration, but judges have the authority to not do so. If a defendant has two or more offenses, chemical castration becomes mandatory.

There are certain circumstances that determine whether or not prosecutors will pursue misdemeanor charges or not. These are:

1. If the defendant is no more than 3 years older than the alleged victim, the defendant will always be charged with a misdemeanor.
2. If the defendant is 3 years or older than the alleged victim, prosecutors may pursue misdemeanor or felony charges
3. If the defendant is 21 years or older, and the alleged victim is under the age of 16, the defendant could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, but the penalties are more severe.

On top of criminal penalties for statutory rape, civil penalties may be pursued by the alleged victim. The penalties vary depending on the age of the alleged victim and the age of the defendant. The maximum penalties are:

1. If the alleged victim is less than 2 years younger than the defendant, the defendant must pay up to $2,000 in penalties.
2. If the alleged victim is at least 2 years younger than the defendant, the defendant must pay up to $5,000 in penalties.
3. If the victim is at least 3 years younger than the defendant, the defendant must pay up to $10,000 in penalties
4. If the defendant is 16 years old or younger, and the defendant is 21 or over, the defendant must pay up to $25,000 in penalties

Can Adults Date Minors?

Technically, adults are allowed to date minors in the state of California, with the exception that no sexual intercourse takes place. Of course, situations like these are looked down upon by the courts, and will not be favorable for the defendant in court. Adults who date minors are legally allowed to do so if they do not engage in any sexual activity or intercourse. Adults are not allowed to take the minor to R-rated movies, have them take drugs or alcohol, or show them pornography. The age of consent in California comes into play when showing minors pornography.

The age of consent in California is 18 years old, so no person under the age of 18 may consent to sexual intercourse. If the adult has a criminal record, they may not legally date minors. Teachers and other people in positions of authority are also not legally allowed to date minors.

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