Utah Statutory Rape Laws

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

In Utah, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone 15 or younger), even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape.

Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. Their incapacity is written into the statute—hence the term, “statutory” rape. 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.

Though statutory rape does not require that the prosecutor prove an assault, it is still rape. Of course, rape that does involve force or an assault is illegal in Utah and prosecuted as forcible rape. Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery or child enticement or molestation laws.

Utah’s Statutory Rape Laws and Potential Penalties

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Utah’s sexual abuse and sex crime laws, and penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the circumstances of the crime, as described below.

Getting Legal Guidance
The information in this article provides an overview of the law relating to statutory rape. If you are trying to determine the legality of any kind of conduct, make sure to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. The law is complex and changes regularly.

Rape of a child includes sexual intercourse between a minor who is 13 or younger and a defendant who is 18 or older. This offense is a first degree felony and is punishable by at least six years (and up to life) in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-301, 76-5-402.1 (2018).)

Object rape of a child includes sexual penetration (however slight) with an object other than a body part, between a minor who is 13 or younger and a defendant who is 18 or older. This offense is a first degree felony, punishable by at least five years (and up to life) in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-301, 76-5-402.2 (2018).)

Sodomy on a child includes anal or oral sex between a minor 13 or younger and a defendant of any age. This offense is a first degree felony and is punishable by at least six years (and up to life) in prison, a fine of $10,000, or both. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-301, 76-5-403.1 (2018).)

Unlawful sexual conduct includes intercourse, penetration (however slight), sexual touching, or oral sex between a 16 or 17-year-old minor and:

  • a defendant who is seven, eight, or nine years older than the minor and knew or reasonably should have known the minor’s age, or
  • a defendant who is ten or more years older than the victim.

If the sexual activity involved only touching, unlawful sexual conduct is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of as much as $2,500, or both. Otherwise, the offense is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of $5,000, or both. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-203, 76-3-204, 76-3-301, 76-5-401.2 (2018).)

Unlawful sexual activity with a minor includes intercourse, penetration (however slight), or oral sex between a 14 or 15 year old minor, and a defendant who is 18 or older. If the defendant was fewer than four years older than the minor, the offense is a class B misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Otherwise, the offense is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of $5,000, or both. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-203, 76-3-204, 76-3-301, 76-5-401 (2018).)

Sexual abuse of a minor includes sexual touching with the intent to arouse or sexually gratify either or both parties, between a 14 or 15-year-old victim, and a defendant who is at least seven years older than the victim. The offense is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of as much as $2,500, or both. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-203, 76-3-301, 76-5-401.1 (2018).)

Sexual abuse of a child involves sexual touching with the intent to arouse or sexually gratify either or both parties, between a victim who is younger than 14 and a defendant who is 18 or older. The offense is a second degree felony, punishable by at least one year (and up to 15 years) in prison, a fine of as much as $10,000, or both. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-203, 76-3-301, 76-5-404.1 (2018).)

Unlawful adolescent sexual activity involves two minors who engage in sexual activity, including intercourse, penetration (however slight), sexual touching, oral sex, or anal sex. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim.

  • Sexual activity between a 17-year-old and a minor who is 12 or 13 or between a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old is a third degree felony. Potential punishments include up to five years in prison, a fine of $5,000, or both.
  • Sexual activity between a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old or between a 14 or 15-year-old and a 12-year-old is a class A misdemeanor. Potential punishments include up to one year in prison, a fine of as much as $2,500, or both.
  • Sexual activity between a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old or between a 15-year-old and a 13-year old is a class B misdemeanor. Potential punishments include up to six months in jail, a fine of as much as $1,000, or both.
  • Sexual activity between a 12 or 13-year-old and another minor who is 12 or 13 or between a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old is a class C misdemeanor. Potential punishments include up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $750, or both.

(Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-3-203, 76-3-204, 76-3-301, 76-5-401.3 (2018).)

Sex Offender Registration

State law requires that, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including some instances of statutory rape) must register as sex offenders. (Utah Code Ann. § 77-41-106 (2018).)

Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge in Utah

Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, starting with “Someone else committed this crime.” Or defendants may argue that the claimed conduct did not occur. One or more of the following defenses may also apply.

Marriage

Utah has a marital exemption for statutory rape, which allows married people to have consensual sex even if their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. (Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-407 (2018).) This defense is a remnant of the marital rape exemption.

Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex, so for example, if Jen, a 15-year-old willingly has sex with Tony, her 23-year-old boyfriend, Tony can be charged with rape, because Jen is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place.

But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Utah, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Utah has a marital exemption to the Utah statutory rape laws.

However, if Tony were to rape Jen (force her to have sex against her will), he would have no protection under the law, even if the two are married.

The “Romeo and Juliet” Exemption

Named after Shakespeare’s young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions are intended to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age. In Utah, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between minors who are close in age and even when one party is a minor, but the defendant is fewer than seven (or ten) years older than the minor (discussed above). However, teenagers who engage in consensual sexual acts can still face criminal charges for unlawful adolescent sexual activity even if both parties are minors (as described above). (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-5-401.2, 76-5-401.3 (2018).)

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 herself represented that she was older than she was, and that a reasonable person would have believed her. But under almost all circumstances in Utah, even a reasonable mistake of age is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape. However, it can be a defense to a charge of unlawful sexual conduct that a defendant who is seven, eight, or nine years older than a 16 or 17-year old victim did not know that the child’s age. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-2-304.5, 76-5-401.2 (2018).)

See a Lawyer

If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. The law can change at any time, and a lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.

A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties (such as, for example, probation instead of prison time) and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours.

Help for Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors

If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.

Updated October 4, 2018

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