Montana Statutory Rape Laws

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

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated January 16, 2024

Montana law makes it illegal for a person to have consensual sexual activity with a minor younger than 16, with a few exceptions. Anyone who engages in such unlawful conduct can face charges for sexual assault or sexual intercourse without consent.

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. Keep in mind that engaging in any sexual activity without the other person's consent can result in more serious charges and penalties, no matter what the age of the other person.

What Is the Age of Consent in Montana?

In Montana, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 can face charges for sexual intercourse without consent or sexual assault. 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.

Montana's Statutory Rape Crimes and Penalties

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Montana's sex crime laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim and the type of conduct that occurred.

Penalties for Sexual Intercourse Without Consent

A person commits the crime of "sexual intercourse without consent" by engaging in sexual intercourse with a child younger than 16. Sexual intercourse means sexual contact between people consisting of oral, genital, or anal sex or penetration, however slight, by a body part or object.

This unlawful conduct subjects a guilty defendant to life in prison or up to 20 years' imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. An offender who is four or more years older than the victim faces life imprisonment or 4 to 100 years of incarceration and a $50,000 fine. Where the victim was 12 or younger and the unlawful actor was 18 or older at the time of the offense, the crime carries up to 100 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Less harsh penalties apply if the minor is 14 or 15 and the defendant is 18 or younger and it's the defendant's first sex offense. In this case, the defendant faces up to five years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.

Penalties for Sexual Assault

An offender is guilty of sexual assault by engaging in sexual contact with a child younger than 14 when the defendant is 3 or more years older. Sexual contact occurs when the offender, for purposes of sexual gratification or arousal, touches the sexual or intimate parts of the minor, directly or through clothing.

A first-time conviction carries penalties of six months in jail and a $500 fine, and a second conviction means up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A maximum five-year prison sentence applies to subsequent conviction.

Enhanced Penalties

Second and subsequent convictions for statutory rape or related crimes can result in harsher penalties. Additionally, unlike most states, Montana law authorizes chemical castration for certain sex offenses. Treatment must begin before the defendant's release from prison and has to continue until the Department of Corrections determines that the treatment is no longer necessary. Failure to continue this ordered treatment constitutes a criminal contempt of court, which carries penalties of 10 to 100 years of confinement.

Does Montana 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. Montana has Romeo-and-Juliet laws but with some limitations.

Montana's Romeo-and-Juliet exemptions apply only when consensual sexual contact involves close-in-age minors. For example, Montana's sexual assault law doesn't criminalize consensual sexual contact between someone who is younger than 14 and someone who is less than three years older. Under this provision, a 15-year-old who engages in consensual sexual contact with a 13-year-old could not be prosecuted for a crime. The state does not have exceptions for consensual sexual intercourse between close-in-age minors, although they may be subject to more lenient penalties.

Defenses to Statutory Rape Charges in Montana

Defendants charged with sex-related crimes of minors in Montana 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. While many offenders attempt to use consent as a defense, this does not constitute a sufficient defense in sex crime prosecutions involving a victim younger than 16 in Montana.

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. Unlike most states, Montana does recognize a mistake-of-age defense for statutory rape crimes in some circumstances. If the minor is 15 or older, it can be a defense that the defendant reasonably believed the child to be an adult. However, if the child is 14 or younger, ignorance or mistake of the child's age is not a defense.

Marriage. It is a defense to statutory rape offenses when the defendant and the victim are married and have consensual sex. This marital defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.

Sex Offender Registration Requirements for Statutory Rape Crimes in Montana

Montana's Sexual or Violent Offender Registration Act requires, in addition to the applicable fines and incarceration time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including felony statutory rape) to register as sex offenders.

The Department of Corrections designates a tier level for each sex offender based on their recidivism risk. The level designation determines the length of time that offender must remain on the sex offender registry. Registration lasts from 10 years to life. Failure to register can result in additional criminal charges and penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are facing a charge of statutory rape or a similar 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.

(Mont. Code §§ 45-2-101, 45-5-501, 45-5-502, 45-5-503, 45-5-511, 45-5-512, 46-23-501 and following (2024).)

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