Delaware Statutory Rape Laws

Statutes governing Delaware's age of consent, associated criminal charges, available defenses, and penalties for conviction.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 3/13/2024

A person who engages in sexual activities with a minor can face criminal charges in Delaware. These criminal acts are commonly referred to as statutory rape.

What Is the Age of Consent in Delaware?

Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors younger than a certain age are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. Their incapacity is written into the statute—hence the term, "statutory" rape.

In Delaware, the age of consent is 18. Having a sexual relationship with a minor can result in serious felony charges.

Delaware's Statutory Rape Laws

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Delaware's rape and unlawful sexual contact laws. Rape offenses are divided into four degrees, and unlawful sexual conduct has two degrees. The type of offense and penalties depend on the age of the parties, their age difference, and the type of conduct that occurred (sexual intercourse, penetration, or contact).

Sexual intercourse refers vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

Sexual penetration involves placement of an object inside another's vagina or anus or placement of genitalia inside another's mouth.

Sexual contact refers to touching (of a sexual nature) of another's anus, breast, buttocks, or genitalia, under or over clothing. It also includes touching another person with semen.

(Del. Code tit. 11, § 761 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Statutory Rape in Delaware?

Statutory rape charges carry felony penalties in Delaware. Below are the general penalties that apply. Repeat offenses may result in harsher penalties. Harsher penalties also apply when the defendant holds a position of trust over the victim. Examples of defendants in a position of trust include teachers, coaches, babysitters, health professionals, clergy, counselors, and relatives.

First- and Second-Degree Rape

The harshest penalties apply in cases involving sexual intercourse or penetration by an adult defendant (18 or older) and a child younger than 12. These crimes fall under rape in the first and second degrees. A conviction means 25 years to life in prison.

Third-Degree Rape

Rape in the third degree involves sexual intercourse between:

  • a victim who is 15 or younger and a defendant who's at least 10 years older, or
  • a victim age 12 or 13 and a defendant 19 or older.

Rape in the third degree is a class B felony, punishable by 2 to 25 years of prison time.

Fourth-Degree Rape

Rape in the fourth degree involves sexual intercourse:

  • with a victim who is 15 or younger, or
  • between a victim younger than 18 and a defendant 30 or older (unless married).

This offense carries class C felony penalties of up to 15 years in prison.

Unlawful Sexual Contact

Engaging in sexual contact with a victim younger than 18 constitutes unlawful sexual contact.

First-degree. If the victim is younger than 13, the crime carries class D felony penalties. A person convicted of first-degree unlawful sexual contact faces up to 8 years in prison.

Second-degree. When the victim is 13 to 17 years old, the crime carries class F felony penalties of up to 3 years' incarceration.

(Del. Code tit. 11, §§ 761, 768, 769, 770, 771, 772, 773, 778, 778A, 4205, 4205A (2024).)

Does Delaware Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law?

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. Delaware has very limited Romeo-and-Juliet protections.

Delaware law creates an affirmative defense for teenage defendants who are not more than 4 years older than a 12- to 15-year-old partner. To prevail on this defense, the teenage defendant needs to prove the partner knowingly consented to the sexual activity. Raising a successful defense means no crime is committed.

Under other provisions of the law, defendants close in age to their partner may be subject to less severe punishments than older defendants. But these provisions serve only to reduce the penalty; the act is still a crime.

(Del. Code tit. 11, §§ 761, 762 (2024).)

Defenses to Statutory Rape Charges in Delaware

Delaware law greatly limits the defenses available in statutory rape cases.

Mistake of age is never a defense to charges involving a victim younger than 16. It doesn't matter if the defendant reasonably believed the victim was older or even if the victim claimed to be older.

Marriage is only a defense when a victim is 16 or 17 and the defendant is 30 or older.

Consent is only a defense when a teenage defendant is not more than 4 years older than a victim age 12 to 15.

(Del. Code tit. 11, §§ 762, 770 (2024).)

Is Sex Offender Registration Required for Statutory Rape in Delaware?

Adults convicted of any of the above statutory rape offenses must register as a sex offender in Delaware. Juveniles age 14 and older who are adjudicated delinquent of rape in the first through fourth degrees must also register. For younger juveniles or those convicted of unlawful sexual conduct, the judge decides whether registration is required.

Registration obligations generally last at least 15 years and up to life. Failure to register is a class G felony.

(Del. Code tit. 11, §§ 4121, 4123 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing charges or an investigation for statutory rape, make sure to speak to a criminal defense lawyer. It's best to speak to a lawyer before talking to police or investigators. A lawyer can help you navigate the criminal legal system and explain the ramifications of a potential conviction.

Get Professional Help

Talk to a Sex Crime attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you