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Explaining Arizona’s Statutory Rape Law

Posted on April 22, 2024 in

If you get accused of statutory rape in Arizona, it is critical to learn as much as you can about this criminal offense so you can better understand your situation, what is at stake and how to protect yourself. At Snader Law Group, our Phoenix sex crimes defense attorney can aggressively defend your rights and best interests during a statutory rape case, starting with an overview of what this crime means in Arizona.

What Is the Definition of Statutory Rape in Arizona? 

Technically, Arizona law does not contain the phrase “statutory rape.” However, this term is used colloquially to describe sexual relations between an adult and a minor. Sexual relations in this context refers to sexual intercourse, or vaginal, anal or oral penetration. Arizona’s sexual conduct with a minor law is found in Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-1405:

  • 13-1405. Sexual conduct with a minor; classification
  • A. A person commits sexual conduct with a minor by intentionally or knowingly engaging in sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact with any person who is under eighteen years of age.

Sexual conduct with a minor is a crime in Arizona whether or not the minor gave his or her consent. This is because the age of consent in Arizona is 18 years old. Any minor under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to sexual activity with an adult. “Statutory rape” could also refer to the crimes of child sexual abuse or molestation of child.

What Is the Difference Between Rape and Statutory Rape? 

The definition of rape, known as sexual assault in Arizona, is to knowingly engage in sexual intercourse with a person without that person’s consent (Arizona Revised Statute § 13-1406). Consent means voluntary, affirmative words or actions that communicate an individual’s enthusiastic agreement to participate in sexual activity. 

The difference between rape and statutory rape is that the crime of statutory rape can still be committed even with an individual’s consent. Statutory rape is a crime that deals with the age of consent rather than the question of consent itself. For example, if a 21-year-old adult has sexual relations with his 17-year-old girlfriend, he could be charged with statutory rape even if she consented due to the age of consent.

Is There a Close-in-Age Exemption to Arizona’s Statutory Rape Law?

Arizona has a “Romeo and Juliet” law that legalizes sexual activity involving a minor in specific circumstances. Under this law, also known as a close-in-age exemption, if both parties involved in the sexual activity are less than two years apart when they are 15, 16 or 17 years old and the activity is consensual, this can provide a defense to statutory rape charges. If one of the parties is 18 or older but still in high school, the Romeo and Juliet law can still apply as long as the age gap is no more than two years.

Is Statutory Rape a Felony in Arizona?

Yes, statutory rape and sexual conduct with a minor charges in Arizona are classified as felony crimes. State law says that sexual conduct with a minor who is at least 15 years old is a Class 6 felony, while sexual conduct with a minor who is under the age of 15 is a “Dangerous Crime Against Children” and a Class 2 felony. However, a Class 6 felony could be enhanced to Class 2 if the perpetrator was in a position of trust or power over the minor, such as a teacher or caregiver.

What Are the Penalties if Convicted of Statutory Rape in Arizona? 

If an individual is convicted of statutory rape, the penalties imposed will depend on the actual charge(s) entered by the prosecution. If the charges were for sexual conduct with a minor, the potential penalties could include:

  • Life in prison if the victim is under the age of 12
  • 13 to 27 years in prison for a Class 2 felony
  • 6 months to 2 years in prison for a Class 6 felony
  • 3 to 12.5 years’ incarceration for a juvenile defendant
  • Lifelong registration on Arizona’s Sex Offender List

The penalties for child molestation and child sexual abuse are:

  • 10 to 24 years in prison for molestation of a child younger than 15 (adult offenders)
  • 3 to 12.5 years’ incarceration for molestation of a child younger than 15 (juvenile offenders)
  • 13 to 27 years in prison for child sexual abuse (adult offenders)
  • 2 to 8.75 years’ incarceration for child sexual abuse (juvenile offenders)
  • Lifelong registration on Arizona’s Sex Offender List

The specific sentence given to a defendant who is convicted of statutory rape in Arizona will depend on the circumstances, such as the age of the minor, the nature of the crime, whether the defendant has a criminal history and if this is the defendant’s first sexual offense.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Statutory Rape in Arizona? 

A statute of limitations is a legal deadline by which a specific type of claim must be filed with the courts or else the case will be time-barred and not permitted to proceed. Arizona has statutes of limitations on both criminal and civil cases. If the statute of limitations expired for pressing statutory rape charges in Arizona, this can be used as a defense. 

The statute of limitations on illegal sexual conduct with a minor is seven years from the time that investigators become aware of the alleged crime. However, an alleged victim of childhood sexual abuse can come forward to report the crime at any time, even if the incident occurred decades earlier. 

What Are Potential Defenses for Statutory Rape Charges?

Defending a statutory rape case and avoiding a conviction is possible. With the right criminal defense lawyer representing you, you may be able to achieve case dismissal or avoid a conviction with case acquittal. If this is not possible, your attorney will still use personalized legal strategies to reduce the charges and penalties you face as much as possible.

One potential defense strategy is a mistake of age. This argues that you had reason to believe the minor was of legal age to consent to sexual activity, such as based on the minor’s appearance or behavior. If the minor provided false information about his or her age, a lack of knowledge defense may also be available. 

Depending on the age of the alleged victim, your lawyer may be able to use consent (Romeo and Juliet exemption) as a defense. Even if the close-in-age exception does not apply, evidence of consent or a minor age differential could reduce the severity of the charges. Finally, defenses such as insufficient evidence, entrapment, police misconduct or civil rights violations could be used to poke holes in the case.

If you have been charged with statutory rape in Arizona, learn more about this offense during a free and 100-percent confidential consultation when you contact Snader Law Group.