Arizona law makes it illegal for a person to have sex with a minor younger than 18. Those who break the law have committed what's commonly referred to as statutory rape. Arizona does not use the term statutory rape. Rather, anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 18 (the age of consent in Arizona) can face charges for sexual conduct with a minor, molestation of a child, or sexual abuse. For these age-based sexual offenses, it is immaterial whether the child consents to the activity. The child's age is what matters, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.
The age of consent in Arizona is 18. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a minor commits a crime unless one of the defenses listed below applies. In Arizona, certain teenagers who are close in age may fall under the state's Romeo-and-Juliet law (described below). Arizona also allows a defendant to raise a mistake-of-age defense. However, neither applies if one of the parties is younger than 15.
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. Rape that involves force or an assault is illegal and prosecuted as sexual assault.
Arizona law contains several offenses related to sexual crimes involving children younger than 18. These are broken into several categories based on the age of the parties and the type of sexual act that occurred.
Sexual conduct with a minor occurs when an offender intentionally or knowingly engages in sexual intercourse (penetration however slight) or anal or oral sex with a child who is younger than 18. This offense carries felony penalties that vary depending on the age of the victim and offender.
Victim under 15. If the victim is younger than 15, the unlawful sexual activity constitutes a class 2 felony and a "Dangerous Crime Against Children," which carries 13 to 27 years in prison for first-time adult offenders. If the child is younger than 12, the offender faces up to life in prison. First-time juvenile defendants are subject to between 3 and 12.5 years of incarceration.
Victim 15 or older. If the minor is 15 or older, the felony receives a class 6 designation, subjecting a defendant to between 6 months and 2 years in prison. That class 6 felony bumps up to a class 2 if the offender was in a position of trust, such as a parent, legal guardian, teacher, coach, or clergyman. In such a case, the defendant faces 4 to 12.5 years in prison.
Repeat offenses. Repeat offenders face longer terms of imprisonment for all unlawful sexual activity involving children. Depending on the criminal record of the defendant and the circumstances of the crime, the offender can face life in prison.
The following crimes involve sexual contact rather than sexual intercourse or anal or oral sex.
Molestation of a child involves sexual contact with a child younger than 15. Sexual contact refers to touching, fondling, or manipulating another's intimate parts (excluding sexual contact with the female breast). Such an offense constitutes a class 2 felony and Dangerous Crime Against Children, punishable by 10 to 24 years in prison for first-time adult offenders. First-time juvenile defendants are subject to 3 to 12.5 years of incarceration for a class 2 felony.
Sexual abuse refers to sexual contact involving the female breast of a victim younger than 15. This offense is a class 3 felony and a Dangerous Crime Against Children, which can land a first-time adult offender in prison for 13 to 27 years. A first-time juvenile defendant faces 2 to 8.75 years of incarceration for a class 3 felony.
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, a Romeo-and-Juliet exemption provides a defense for consensual sex between minors who are less than two years apart in age when both minors are 15, 16, or 17 years old. The exemption also protects from prosecution defendants who are older than 18 but still in high school, as long as the age difference between parties is no more than two years.
Defendants charged with statutory rape crimes in Arizona have several potential defenses available to them.
Defendants charged with statutory rape or a similar crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."
Arizona 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.
Unlike most states where mistake of age is not a defense, Arizona permits a mistake-of-age defense in some situations. When the victim was 15, 16, or 17 years old at the time of the offense, the defendant accused of statutory rape may claim they had no reason to know the victim was underage. The defendant may argue that the victim represented themselves as being older than they actually were and that a reasonable person would have believed them.
Arizona's Sex Offender Registration Program requires adult defendants convicted of sexual conduct with a minor, molestation of a child, and sexual abuse to register as sex offenders for a minimum of 10 years for first-time sex offenders and life for subsequent convictions. Juveniles adjudicated delinquent for certain sex offenses can also be required to register. Juvenile registration terminates when they turn 25 or after they complete probation if they were younger than 18 at the time of the offense.
Failure to comply with registration requirements results in an additional felony charge. Such a violation of the sex offender registry requirements can result in a class 4 felony conviction, punishable by one to 15 years, depending on the defendant's prior convictions.
If you are facing a charge for 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 help 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.
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-705, -1401, -1404, -1405, -1407, -1410, -3821, -3824 (2022).)