North Carolina Sexual Battery Laws

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Rape (sometimes also called “sexual assault” or “sexual battery”) is illegal in North Carolina, and punished as a felony. The circumstances of the offense determine the level of felony, which in turn determine the penalties that apply to the crime.

When it comes to rape, the law strives to protect strangers, acquaintances, and married people equally. In North Carolina, as in all states, there is no exception or defense to prosecution for rape that occurs within a marriage (to learn more about marital rape laws in North Carolina, see Marital Rape in North Carolina).

Rape

In North Carolina, rape and occurs when someone compels a victim to engage in sexual intercourse against the victim’s will. This crime also includes circumstances when the victim is mentally incapable of giving consent to sex (such as being in a coma or having passed out from drug or alcohol use), and some instances of statutory rape—when the victim is too young to legally be able to give consent. Under certain circumstances, exemptions exist when two minors have consensual sex with each other; or when the parties are fewer than four years apart in age—even if one party is an adult— at the time that the consensual sex occurred.

The crime is broken into two categories:

Rape in the first degree is a class B1 felony, and occurs when a defendant forces a victim to have non-consensual sex, and either possesses a deadly weapon, inflicts serious personal injury upon the victim, or is aided by one or more other persons. This crime also includes statutory rape when the victim was younger than 13 years old, and the defendant was at least 12 years old, and at least four years older than the victim.

Rape in the second degree is a class C felony, and occurs when a defendant forces a victim to have non-consensual sex, and the victim is incapable of giving consent because of a mental disability or incapacitation, or physical helplessness.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-27.2 & -27.3.)

Penalties

Penalties for rape depend on the circumstances of the crime. North Carolina’s sentencing structure may include fines, time in prison, or both; and increased penalties apply for defendants who have prior criminal convictions. In addition to fines, second degree rape may incur up to 15 years in prison, and the most serious cases of first degree rape may incur life in prison without parole.

Defenses to a Charge of Sexual Assault

Defendants charged with sexual assault have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, starting with “Someone else committed this crime.”

For statutory rape charges, the defendant may argue that the parties were both older than 13, but younger than 18, or were fewer than four years apart in age (even if the defendant was an adult), and that the sexual activity was consensual.

The defendant can also claim that the sexual activity (between two adults) was consensual. In a rape case, there can be significant questions about what constitutes consent or what constitutes refusal. This has led to the infamous question of when does “No” mean “No?" Does the word constitute a lack of consent as soon as it is spoken, or must the victim object more vigorously?

Another possible defense is an insanity plea, in which the defense argues that the accused is mentally ill and did not have the capacity to control his behavior, to form criminal intent or to understand what he was doing or that his actions were unlawful.

See a Lawyer

If you are facing a sexual assault charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. Numerous defenses apply to 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.

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