In Arizona, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 15), even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape. For more information on statutory rape and the history of this crime, see Statutory Rape
Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. Their incapacity is written into the statute—hence the term, “statutory” rape. The age of consent can vary among states, and some states differentiate between consensual sex between minors who are close in age (for example, two teenagers of the same age), as opposed to sex between a minor and a much older adult.
Though statutory rape does not require that the prosecutor prove an assault, it is still rape. Of course, rape that does involve force or an assault is illegal in Arizona and prosecuted as forcible rape (see Arizona Sexual Battery Laws). Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery or child molestation or enticement laws (to learn more, see Aggravated Assault Laws in Arizona and Child Enticement in Arizona). And for information about rape between spouses, see Arizona Marital Rape Laws.
Statutory Rape and Penalties
In Arizona, statutory rape is prosecuted under the state’s sexual abuse and molestation laws, and is broken into several categories based on the age of the parties and the type of sexual contact that occurred, as described below.
Sexual contact with a minor occurs when there is sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact between a minor who is 14 or younger, and a defendant of any age. It also includes intercourse or oral sexual contact between a minor who is 15, 16, or 17, and a defendant who is 19 or older (unless the defendant is still in high school), and at least two years older than the minor.
Molestation of a child occurs when there is sexual contact without penetration (not including touching a female’s breast) between a minor who is 14 or younger and a defendant of any age.
Sexual abuse occurs when there is sexual contact involving only touching the female’s breast between a minor who is 14 or younger and a defendant of any age.
Penalties vary according to Arizona’s sentencing grid, and may include fines, prison time, or both. Increased penalties apply to offenders with prior convictions.
(Az. Rev. Stat. § 13-1405, 13-1410, & 13-1404.)
Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as “Someone else committed this crime, ” or “The alleged conduct did not occur.” One or more of the following defenses may also apply.
Statutory rape marital exception
Arizona has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and that minor’s adult spouse, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married.
Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex; so for example, if Jen, a 15 year old willingly has sex with Tony, her 26 year old boyfriend, Tony can be charged with rape, since Jen is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place.
But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Arizona, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Arizona has a marital exemption to the state’s statutory rape laws.
However, if Tony were to rape Jen (force her to have sex against her will), he would have no protection under the law even if the two are married. (Az. Rev. Stat. § 13-1407.)
“Romeo and Juliet” exception
Named after Shakespeare’s young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions are intended to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age. In Arizona, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between minors who are less than two years apart in age when both minors are at least 15 years old. It also protects a defendant who is older than 18 but still in high school, as long as he is not more than two years older than his underage sexual partner. (Ala. Code § 13-1407.)
Mistake of age
Unlike most states where mistake of age is not a defense, in Arizona mistake of age is sometimes a defense. When the victim was 15, 16, or 17 years old at the time of the offense, the defendant accused of statutory rape may claim that he had no reason to know that the victim was underage. The defendant may argue that the victim herself represented that she was older than she was, and that a reasonable person would have believed her. (Ala. Code § 13-1407(B).)
See a Lawyer
If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. There may be defenses that apply to statutory rape charges, and a lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.
A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties (such as, for example, probation instead of prison time); and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours.
Help for Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.