Michigan law makes it illegal for a person to have consensual sex with a minor younger than 16 (with few exceptions). Those who break the law have committed the crime of criminal sexual conduct, often referred to as "statutory rape." Michigan law also prohibits teachers from engaging in sex with students who are 16 or 17 years old.
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.
In Michigan, the age of consent is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 can face charges for criminal sexual conduct 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.
While Michigan doesn't use the term statutory rape, the act of having sex with someone under the age of consent is still a crime. It falls under the crime of criminal sexual conduct. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, as well as the type of sexual activity involved in the unlawful act—sexual penetration or contact.
Sexual penetration involves intercourse, oral or anal sex, or digital penetration, however slight.
Sexual contact includes sexual touching other than penetration, even over clothing, that is meant to arouse or gratify sexual desire.
Prosecutors charge statutory rape under Michigan's criminal sexual conduct laws. The exact crime and penalties depend on the age of the victim, as well as the type of sexual conduct involved.
Criminal sexual conduct in the first degree involves the defendant's sexual penetration (intercourse, oral or anal sex, or digital penetration, however slight) of any child younger than 13 or a child between the ages of 13 and 16 when the adult is:
Criminal sexual conduct in the second degree includes sexual contact with any child younger than 13 or a child between the ages of 13 and 16 when the adult is:
This offense is a felony and carries up to 15 years in prison.
Criminal sexual conduct in the third degree occurs when a defendant and child engage in sexual penetration (intercourse, oral or anal sex, or digital penetration, however slight) and:
Third-degree criminal sexual conduct constitutes a felony. A guilty defendant faces up to 15 years in prison.
Criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree is a lesser crime that involves engaging in sexual contact if any of the following circumstances are present:
This offense is a misdemeanor that subjects the defendant to up to two years in prison and a $500 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 activities with others close to their own age.
Michigan has a Romeo-and-Juliet law for consensual sexual contact between a child who is at least 13 years old and a person who is less than five years older than the child. So, for example, the law doesn't criminalize consensual sexual contact between a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old. The state doesn't have a Romeo-and-Juliet law for close-in-age teenagers who engage in sexual penetration (intercourse, oral or anal sex, or digital penetration, however slight).
Defendants charged with statutory rape crimes in Michigan 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."
Michigan law states that a person can't be charged and convicted for criminal sexual conduct solely because their legal spouse is younger than 16, mentally incapable, or mentally incapacitated.
Michigan, 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.
Michigan's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) requires adult defendants convicted of criminal sexual conduct crimes against children to register as sex offenders for 25 years to life. An exception to this rule applies when consensual conduct occurs between a victim who is 13 to 15 years old and a defendant who is less than four years older than the victim.
(Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 28.722, -.723; 750.145a, -.520b-e, l (2022); See People v. Betts (Mich. 2021) (finding SORA unconstitutional when applied retroactively to conduct predating 2011.))
If you are facing a charge of criminal sexual conduct, 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.