In Alabama, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 16), 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 Alabama and prosecuted as forcible rape. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery laws and child enticement and abuse laws.
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Alabama’s criminal sexual contact and penetration laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
First degree rape includes sexual intercourse (penetration, however slight) with a minor younger than 12 years old, and of the opposite sex of the defendant, when the defendant is at least 16 years old. This offense is a Class A felony. (Ala. Code § 13A-6-61 (2018).)
Second degree rape includes sexual intercourse with a minor who is 12, 13, 14, or 15, and of the opposite sex of the defendant, when the defendant is at least 16 years old and at least two years older than the victim. This offense is a Class B felony. (Ala. Code § 13A-6-62 (2018).)
Sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old includes sexual touching between a minor younger than 12 years old, and a defendant who is at least 16 years old. This offense is a Class B felony. (Ala. Code § 13A-6-69.1 (2018).)
Second degree sexual abuse includes sexual touching with a minor who is 12, 13, 14, or 15, when the defendant is at least 19 years old. This offense is a Class A misdemeanor. (Ala. Code § 13A-6-67 (2018).)
Penalties may include fine, prison time, or both, with more serious fines and prison terms reserved for crimes involving intercourse with younger victims.
Alabama’s laws against sodomy (oral and anal sex) are organized similarly to its laws against rape. Generally, the younger the victim and the older the defendant, the more severely the crime can be punished. (Ala. Code §§ 13A-6-63, 13A-6-64, 13A-6-65 (2018).) For example, a man who has sexual intercourse with a boy could be convicted of sodomy.
State law requires—in addition to the applicable fines and prison time—that people convicted of certain instances of statutory rape must register as sex offenders.
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.” But under Alabama law, some other defenses may apply to statutory rape charges.
Alabama has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and that minor’s 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 23-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 Alabama, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Alabama 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. (For more information about rape between spouses, see Marital Rape Laws.)
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 Alabama, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual genital intercourse between a minor who is 12 or older and a defendant who is less than two years older than the younger minor and of the opposite sex. However, Alabama's Romeo and Juliet exception does not apply to sodomy (anal or oral sex) charges. For example, a person charged with genital intercourse with a minor of the opposite sex may be acquitted under the state's Romeo and Juliet defense. But Alabama law does not permit a defendant charged with sodomy with an underage person to use the Romeo and Juliet defense. (Ala. Code §§ 13A-6-60, 13A-6-62, 13A-6-65 (2018).)
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. But as in most states, in Alabama even a reasonable mistake of age is not a defense to statutory rape.
If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. Laws can change over time, 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.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.
Updated September 5, 2018