In the Wyoming, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 17), 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 Wyoming 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. And for information about rape between spouses, see our article on marital rape laws.
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Wyoming’s sexual abuse laws, and penalties depend on the age of the parties and the type of sexual contact that occurred, as described below.
First degree sexual abuse of a minor. A person commits first degree sexual abuse of a minor by engaging in sexual intrusion (oral, genital, or anal intercourse or penetration with an object or body part, however slight) when the other person is:
If the defendant is younger than 21 years old, this offense is punishable by up to 50 years in prison. If the defendant is 21 years old or older, the offense is punishable by at least 25 years (and up to 50 years) in prison. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-301, 6-2-314 (2018).)
Second degree sexual abuse of a minor. A person commits second degree sexual abuse of a minor by engaging in:
This offense is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-301, 6-2-315 (2018).)
Third degree sexual abuse of a minor. A person commits third degree sexual abuse of a minor by engaging in:
This offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-301, 6-2-316 (2018).)
Fourth degree sexual abuse of a minor. A person commits fourth degree sexual abuse of a minor by engaging in sexual contact when the other person is:
This offense is punishable by up to five years in prison. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-301, 6-2-317 (2018).)
State law requires that, in addition to the applicable fines and prison time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) must register as sex offenders. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-302 (2018).)
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, starting with “Someone else committed this crime” and a claim that the alleged conduct did not take place.
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 Wyoming, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sexual activity between a minor and a defendant who is fewer than three or four years older than the minor. However, that exception does not apply when the defendant is in a position of authority over the victim or when the defendant is the minor’s legal guardian or family member. (See the descriptions of Wyoming’s statutory rape laws, above.) (Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-314, 6-2-315, 6-2-316, 6-2-317 (2018).)
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. In Wyoming, mistake of age can be a defense to a statutory rape charge in certain cases. If the criminality of the sexual activity depends on the victim being younger than 16, it can be a defense that the defendant reasonably believed the child to be 16 or older. However, if the criminality of the sexual conduct depends on the child being younger than 12 or 14 years old, ignorance or mistake of the child’s age is not a defense. (See Wyoming’s sexual abuse laws, described above.) (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-308 (2018).)
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.
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 12, 2018