In Mississippi, a person who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 (the age of consent) can be convicted of statutory rape, sexual battery, or fondling of a child. For a statutory rape conviction, it is immaterial whether the child consents to the activity. The child's age is what counts, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.
(People who engage in sexual activity against other people of any age without consent can be convicted of forcible rape or sexual battery.)
Under Mississippi's laws, a person commits statutory rape by having sexual intercourse with:
Sexual intercourse includes vaginal intercourse or any penetration into the genitals, anus, or perineum of a male or female.
Punishment for statutory rape in Mississippi depends on the ages of the victim and the defendant. Penalties are as follows:
In cases where the victim is younger than 16 years old, the prosecutor does not have to prove penetration. Rather, it is sufficient to show the genitals, anus, or perineum were lacerated or torn during the offense.
An offender who engages in sexual penetration commits the crime of sexual battery in Mississippi when:
Sexual penetration includes anal or oral sex or any penetration, however slight, of the genital or anal openings of the victim's body by any part of the offender's body, or by an object.
Punishments for sexual battery of a victim under the age of consent vary depending on the ages of the victim and offender. Mississippi lays out the following penalties:
Sexual battery also occurs when the victim is younger than 18 if the defendant is in a position of authority over the child. People in positions of authority include teachers, coaches, doctors, other medical providers, and adult family members. Sexual battery of a child younger than 18 by an authority figure is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
An adult commits a crime by handling, touching, or rubbing any child younger than 16 for the purpose of gratifying a sexual desire. If the adult is in a position of trust or authority, the same crime occurs when a victim is younger than 18. Such an offense constitutes a felony, which carries a penalty of two to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. A second conviction can land a defendant in prison for up to 20 years.
Mississippi's Sex Offender Registration Law requires defendants convicted of statutory rape or sexual battery to register as sex offenders for life, unless the defendant is 18 years old or younger and the victim is 14 or 15 years old at the time of the offense. Juvenile offenders who have been adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense involving the use of force against the victim must also register as sex offenders.
Failure to register results in additional criminal charges. Such an offense constitutes a felony, carrying up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Defendants charged with sex-related crimes in Mississippi have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.
Actual innocence. 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."
Consent. Consent is not a defense in the crimes discussed throughout this article.
Mistake of age. Mississippi, 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.
Marital exemption. A person in Mississippi cannot be charged for the statutory rape or sexual battery of their underage spouse, so long as the sexual activity is consensual. This defense is part of Mississippi's marital rape defense.
"Romeo and Juliet" or close-in-age exception. 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. In Mississippi, people who are less than three years older than their 14- or 15-year-old partner or less than two years older than their 13-year-old or younger partner cannot be prosecuted for statutory rape or sexual battery. For example, a 17-year-old who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old cannot be criminally prosecuted in Mississippi.
If you are facing a charge for statutory rape or a related 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.
(Miss. Code §§ 43-47-5, -18; 45-33-23, -25, -47; 97-3-65, -95, -97, -99, -101; 97-5-23 (2021); (Phillipson v. State, 943 So.2d 670 (Miss. 2006).)