In Mississippi, people who engage in sexual activity with children under the state’s age of consent (16 years old) can be convicted of statutory rape or sexual battery.
In all cases of statutory rape and similar crimes, the crucial fact is whether the victim is underage. Consent is immaterial because lawmakers have decided that children are legally incapable of consenting to sexual contact. Of course, people who commit sex acts against other people of any age without consent may be convicted of rape, sexual battery, or assault. (For more information on assault crimes, see Simple Assault in Mississippi, and Mississippi Aggravated Assault Laws.)
Under Mississippi’s laws, a person commits statutory rape by having sexual intercourse (which includes vaginal and anal sex) with:
In general, punishments for the crime of statutory rape are more severe the younger the victim and the older the defendant. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-65 (2018).)
A person who engages in other sexual activity (including oral sex, anal sex, or any sexual penetration) commits the crime of sexual battery in Mississippi when:
It is also sexual battery to engage in sexual activity with a child over the age of 14 but under the age of 18 if the defendant is in a position of authority over the child. People in positions of authority include teachers, coaches, doctors and other medical providers, and adult family members. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-95, 97-3-97 (2018).)
In Mississippi, it is also a crime to lure children under the age of 14 away from their parents or use a computer network system, such as the Internet, to invite children under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity. The crime of child enticement is committed by making the invitation to the child; it is not necessary that the child accept or that the defendant and the child ever meet or engage in any inappropriate behavior. A child enticement conviction in Mississippi can result in between two and ten years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-5-5 (2018).)
Punishment for statutory sex crimes in Mississippi depends on the ages of the victim and the defendant. If the defendant is over the age of 13, but under the age of 18, then statutory rape and sexual battery are punishable at the discretion of the court. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-65, 97-3-95, 97-3-101 (2018).)
If the defendant is over the age of 18, but under the age of 21, and the victim is age 14 or 15, then statutory rape and sexual battery are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If the defendant is over age 21 and the victim is age 14 or 15, statutory rape and sexual battery are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-65, 97-3-95, 97-3-101 (2018).)
Sexual battery of a child over the age of 14 by an authority figure is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. If the victim is under the age of 14 and the defendant is over age 18, statutory rape and sexual battery are punishable by 20 years’ to life imprisonment. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-65, 97-3-95, 97-3-101 (2018).)
People who are convicted of statutory rape and sexual battery are required to register as sex offenders in Mississippi unless the defendant is 18 years old (or younger) and the victim is 14 or 15 years old at the time of the offense. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 45-33-23, 45-33-25 (2018).)
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.” However, under Mississippi’s laws, there are other defenses that can apply to statutory rape cases.
Many states, including Mississippi, have enacted “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions. Named for William Shakespeare’s young lovers, these exceptions protect young people from criminal charges as a result of consensual sexual activity with other young people. In Mississippi, people who are within two or three years in age to their victims cannot be prosecuted for statutory rape or sexual battery, and judges have complete discretion in sentencing defendants who are at least 13 years old but under the age of 18 at the time the crime is committed. For example, a 17-year-old who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old cannot be criminally prosecuted in Mississippi. But sex with anyone younger than 14 is always a crime, and can carry a sentence of life imprisonment, depending on the circumstances of the case. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-65, 97-3-95 (2018).)
In most states, including Mississippi, it is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape or a similar crime that the defendant mistakenly believed the child to be of age, even if the child concealed or misstated his or her age or appeared to be an adult. (Phillipson v. State, 943 So.2d 670 (Miss. 2006).)
A person in Mississippi cannot be charged for the statutory rape or sexual battery of his or her underage spouse, so long as the sexual activity is consensual. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-65, 97-3-99 (2018).) This defense is part of Mississippi’s marital rape defense.
If you are charged with statutory rape or sexual battery in Mississippi, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. Laws can change at any time, and being convicted of a crime—especially a sex crime—can have extremely serious consequences, including time in prison and sex offender registration. A criminal conviction can also make it more difficult to obtain a job or a professional license. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney can tell you what to expect in court and help you successfully navigate the criminal justice system and protect your rights.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.
Updated July 30, 2018