In North Dakota, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than18), even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed 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 North Dakota and prosecuted as forcible rape (see North Dakota Sexual Battery Laws). Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery laws (to learn more, see Aggravated Assault Laws in North Dakota) and Child Enticement Laws in North Dakota.
Statutory Rape and Penalties
Statutory rape is prosecuted under North Dakota’s rape and sex crime laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
Gross sexual imposition includes sexual acts (penetration, however slight) or sexual contact (touching, even over clothing) between a minor who is younger than 15 and a defendant who is 15 or older. An offense involving a sexual act is a class A felony, which incurs a fine of up to $10,000, up to 20 years in prison, or both. The offense is a class B felony if it includes sexual contact, and it incurs a fine of up to $10,000, up to ten years in prison, or both.
Corruption of a minor includes sexual acts between a minor who is 15, 16, or 17 and a defendant who is at least 18 years old. This offense is a class A misdemeanor if the defendant was younger than 22 at the time of the crime. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both. If the defendant was 22 or older, it is a class C felony, which incurs a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
Sexual assault includes sexual contact between a minor who is 15, 16, or 17, and a defendant who is 18 or older. This offense is a class A misdemeanor if the defendant was younger than 22 at the time of the crime. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both. If the defendant was 22 or older, it is a class C felony, which incurs a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
(N.D. Cen. Code § 12.1-20-03, 12.1-20-05, & 12.1-20-07.)
Sex Offender Registration
State law requires, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, that people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) must register as sex offenders.
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.”
“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 North Dakota, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between two minors who are both16 or 17 years old.
Mistake of age
Defendants accused of statutory rape often claim that they had no reason to know that their partner was underage. They may argue that the victim herself represented that she was older than she was, and that a reasonable person would have believed her. Mistake of age is not a defense in North Dakota.
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. Numerous defenses may 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.