People who engage in sexual activity with children under the age of consent can be convicted of criminal sexual conduct (also called statutory rape). Sixteen is the age of consent in Minnesota. Minnesota’s laws also prohibit sexual activity between children under the age of 18 and adults in positions of authority over them.
In all cases of statutory rape and related crimes, the crucial fact is whether the victim is underage. Consent is not an issue. Of course, people who commit sex acts against other people without their consent may be convicted of rape, sexual battery, or assault, no matter the victim’s age.
In Minnesota, statutory rape is charged as one of four offenses.
First degree sexual conduct. Statutory rape is punished severely (as first degree sexual conduct) if sexual penetration occurs between:
Sexual penetration includes oral and anal sex, sexual intercourse, and penetration of the victim’s body or the defendant’s body. For example, a teacher who has sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old student on a school field trip could be convicted of first degree criminal sexual conduct. (Minn. Stat. §§ 609.341, 609.342 (2018).)
Second degree sexual conduct. A person in Minnesota commits second degree criminal sexual conduct by engaging in sexual contact short of penetration with:
(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.341, 609.343 (2018).)
Third degree sexual conduct. Under Minnesota’s laws, a person commits the crime of third degree criminal sexual conduct by engaging in sexual penetration with:
(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.341, 609.344 (2018).)
Fourth degree sexual conduct. Finally, the crime of fourth degree criminal sexual conduct occurs when the defendant and the victim engage in sexual contact short of penetration and:
(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.341, 609.345 (2018).)
In Minnesota, it is also a crime, called child enticement, for a person over the age of 18 to invite or try to persuade a child under the age of 16 to engage in sexual conduct. For example, engaging in explicit sexual talk with a child over the Internet can result in child enticement charges, even if no sexual activity ever occurs.
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.” One or more of the following defenses may also apply.
Generally, it is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape that the defendant mistakenly believed the child to be older. Minnesota’s laws provides for a limited defense to third or fourth degree criminal sexual conduct when:
(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.344, 609.345 (2018).)
For example, a person would have a hard time showing that he or she reasonably believed the child to be age 16 or older if the person knew that child was in junior high school and did not have a driver’s license.
It is a defense to a charge of criminal sexual conduct based on consensual sexual activity that the defendant and the child were married and not living apart or separated at the time of the offense. This defense is part of the marital rape exemption. (Minn. Stat. § 609.349 (2018).)
Many states have enacted “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions to protect young people from criminal charges as a result of consensual sexual activity with other young people. Minnesota’s laws criminalize any sexual conduct with a child under the age of 13, but punish older defendants more severely. For children between the age 13, 14, or 15, people who are not more than two years older cannot be prosecuted for sexual penetration, and people who are within in four years in age (and not in a position of authority) cannot be prosecuted for less serious sexual conduct. (Minn. Stat. §§ 609.342, 609.343, 609.344, 609.345 (2018).)
For example, a 16-year-old in Minnesota who has sex with a 15-year-old cannot be prosecuted for statutory rape.
First degree criminal sexual conduct is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $40,000, or both. Second degree criminal sexual conduct is punishable by up to 25 years in prison, a fine of up to $35,000, or both. (Minn. Stat. §§ 609.342, 609.343 (2018).)
If the child is at least 13 years old but younger than 16 and the defendant is at least one year but less than two years older, third degree sexual conduct is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $30,000, or both. Otherwise, the offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $30,000, or both. (Minn. Stat. § 609.344 (2018).)
Fourth degree criminal sexual conduct is punishable by up to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both. (Minn. Stat. § 609.345 (2018).)
People who are convicted of criminal sexual conduct are required to register as sex offenders under Minnesota’s laws. (Minn. Stat. § 243.166 (2018).)
It’s important to remember that the law can change at any time. If you are charged with criminal sexual misconduct as a result of engaging in consensual sexual activity with a person who is underage, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. Being convicted of any crime, especially a sex crime, can have serious and lasting consequences, including time in prison and sex offender registration. With the help of an experienced Minnesota criminal defense attorney, you can protect your rights and defend yourself.
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 13, 2018