Minnesota Statutory Rape Laws

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

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 2/02/2024

Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors younger than a certain age are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. The age of consent varies 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. This article will provide an overview of Minnesota's statutory rape laws and penalties.

What Is the Age of Consent in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, the age of consent for sexual relations is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 may face charges for criminal sexual conduct crimes. 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.

(If the defendant holds a current or recent position of authority over the victim or has a special relationship with the victim (such as familial), the age of consent increases to 18. These crimes are not covered in this article. To learn more, consult the Minnesota Statutes or an attorney.)

Minnesota's Statutory Rape Crimes

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Minnesota's criminal sexual conduct laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim and the type of conduct that occurred (sexual penetration or contact).

Sexual penetration includes vaginal, anal, or oral penetration, however slight, using a person's body part or an object. For first-degree criminal sexual conduct crimes, the term also includes intentional touching of the victim's bare genitals or anal opening by the defendant's bare genitals or anal opening with sexual intent.

Sexual contact includes the intentional touching of another's intimate parts or the clothing covering the immediate area of the intimate parts. It also includes intentionally ejaculating seminal fluid on another's body, including clothing covering the body.

Is Statutory Rape a Felony in Minnesota?

All statutory rape crimes carry felony penalties in Minnesota. The state divides these offenses into four degrees.

First-Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct

The harshest penalties apply to consensual sexual penetration between a victim younger than 14 and a defendant who's more than 3 years older than the victim. This offense carries up to 30 years of prison time and a $40,000 fine.

Second-Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct

Second-degree penalties apply to consensual sexual contact between a victim younger than 14 and a defendant who is more than 3 years older than the victim. A conviction can mean up to 25 years of prison time and a $35,000 fine.

Third-Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct

Third-degree criminal sexual conduct applies to consensual sexual penetration between:

  • a victim younger than 14 and a defendant who's no more than 3 years older, or
  • a victim age 14 or 15 and a defendant who's more than 2 years older.

A person convicted of this offense faces up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. However, if the victim was 14 or 15 and the defendant was no more than 3 years older, the penalty decreases to a 5-year felony.

Fourth-Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct

Charges for criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree apply to consensual sexual contact between:

  • a victim younger than 14 and a defendant who's no more than 3 years older, or
  • a victim who is 14 or 15 and a defendant who's more than 3 years older.

This offense carries a maximum penalty of 10 years of prison and a $20,000 fine.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.341, 609.342, 609.343, 609.344, 609.345 (2024).)

Does Minnesota Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law?

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. These protections can come in the form of reduced penalties, no penalties, or permitted defenses.

Minnesota has several types of Romeo-and-Juliet laws but they come with limitations. Most importantly, they only apply when sexual activities occur between close-in-age teenagers who are 14 or older.

No crime. Minnesota does not make it a crime for a defendant to engage in consensual sexual intercourse with a 14- or 15-year-old partner, as long as the age gap is two years or less. In cases involving consensual sexual contact, the permissible age gap increases to three years.

Reduced penalties. The state also reduces penalties for third-degree criminal sexual conduct (penetration offense) when the victim is at least 14 and the defendant (who must be more than 2 years older) is not more than 3 years older. Under this scenario, a defendant faces a 5-year rather than a 15-year prison sentence.

Defense. Finally, the state permits a defendant to present a mistake-of-age defense for certain third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charges. (More on this below.)

Is Prison Time a Possibility for Statutory Rape Convictions in Minnesota?

An adult convicted of an age-based offense for first-degree criminal sexual conduct will likely face prison time. Sentencing guidelines used in Minnesota presume at least a 12-year prison sentence for this conviction. For other age-based convictions, a person might receive probation (instead of prison) if they don't have a lengthy criminal history.

Defendants who were younger than 18 when the offense occurred will have their cases heard in juvenile court. While juvenile detention is an option (prison generally isn't), juvenile court judges tend to have more flexibility than adult court judges when imposing a sentence (called a disposition). However, judges must order a sex offender assessment for the juvenile.

(Minn. Stat. § 260B.198 (2024).)

Possible Defenses to Statutory Rape Charges in Minnesota

Defendants charged with sex-related crimes of minors in Minnesota have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.


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."

Mistake of Age

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 claimed to be older and that a reasonable person would have believed them.

In most cases, Minnesota does not allow a mistake-of-age defense for statutory rape crimes. However, if the victim is 14 or 15, it can be a defense that the defendant reasonably believed the child to be 16 or older. This defense only applies to charges for third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct when the age gap between the parties is less than 5 years.

Do Statutory Rape Convictions Require Sex Offender Registration in Minnesota?

Yes. A person convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first through fourth degrees must register as a sex offender (called "predatory offender" in Minnesota). This registration requirement also applies to juveniles who received a delinquency adjudication in juvenile court.

(Minn. Stat. § 243.166 (2024).)

Getting Legal Help

If you face criminal sexual conduct charges, talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. These charges carry serious felony penalties, plus registration requirements, that can impact your life for a long time.

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