Alabama makes it illegal for a person to have consensual sexual activity with a minor younger than 16, with a few exceptions (see below). Anyone who engages in such unlawful conduct can face charges of rape, sodomy, or sexual abuse.
Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. 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.
Keep in mind that engaging in any sexual activity by force or without the other person's consent can result in more serious charges and penalties, no matter what the age of the other person. Alabama prosecutes this type of unlawful conduct under its forcible rape laws. Assaults of a sexual nature can also be charged under the state's assault and battery laws and child enticement and abuse laws.
In Alabama, the age of consent is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 may face charges for statutory rape or a similar crime. For these age-based sexual offenses, it's immaterial whether the child consented to the activity or not. The child's age is the important fact, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Alabama's rape, sodomy, and sexual abuse laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
A person age 16 or older who engages in sexual intercourse (penetration, however slight) or deviate sexual intercourse (oral or anal sex) with an underage minor can face rape or sodomy charges in Alabama.
First-degree rape or sodomy. First-degree rape or sodomy charges apply when the minor victim is younger than 12. Such offenses constitute class A felonies that carry 10 to 99 years or life in prison and a $60,000 fine. When the defendant is 21 or older and the victim is younger than 7, the defendant must be sentenced to life in prison.
Second-degree rape or sodomy. A person commits second-degree rape or sodomy when the minor is 12, 13, 14, or 15 and the defendant is at least 16 years old and two years older than the victim. A conviction for this class B felony subjects a guilty defendant to two to 20 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
A person can face sexual abuse charges by having "sexual contact" with a minor younger than 16. Sexual contact includes an offender touching a victim's sexual or intimate parts for the purpose of gratifying their sexual desire. Skin-to-skin contact is not required.
Second-degree sexual abuse charges apply when the minor is 13, 14, or 15 and the offender is at least 19. This unlawful conduct is a class A misdemeanor, which carries up to one year in jail and a $6,000 fine. However, if the defendant is at least 15 years older than the minor, the offense constitutes a class C felony, with penalties of one to 10 years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.
Stiffer penalties apply when sexual abuse involves a child younger than 12 and the defendant is 16 or older. This class B felony carries penalties of two to 20 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
In many states, "Romeo-and-Juliet" exceptions—named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers—protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with others close to their own age. Alabama's law carves out a few different close-in-age exceptions depending on the sexual conduct involved. In such cases, no crime is committed.
For instance, there's a Romeo-and-Juliet exception for consensual sexual contact between a minor who is 12 or older and a defendant who is less than two years older than the minor. So, for example, the law doesn't criminalize consensual sexual contact between a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old. Also, sexual intercourse involving underage minors falls under this exception when both parties were younger than 16.
Alabama's Sex Offender Registration laws require adult defendants convicted of any of the above statutory rape-related offenses to register as sex offenders for life. Juvenile offenders must register for at least 10 years. Juveniles ordered to register for life can petition the court for removal after 25 years. Failure to register as a sex offender constitutes a class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
In 2019, Alabama enacted a law that requires chemical castration for certain defendants who are offered parole. Under the law, anyone convicted of a specified sex offense against a child younger than 13 must agree to chemical castration as a condition of parole. An inmate who refuses will not be granted parole. The treatment will continue until a judge deems it no longer necessary.
Defendants charged with statutory rape crimes in Alabama have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.
Defendants charged with a statutory rape crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."
Alabama has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex acts between a married minor and their adult spouse even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. The marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.
Alabama, like many states, doesn't recognize a mistake-of-age defense for sex crimes involving underage victims, even if the defendant's belief was reasonable or the child lied about their age or looked older.
If you are facing charges of statutory rape or a similar crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and develop any defenses that might apply to the unique circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable attorney can also advise you on how the law will apply to your set of facts.
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-6, -7, -11; 13A-6-60 to -67, -69.1; 15-20A-5, -7; 15-22-27.4 (2022).)