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Age of Consent in California: What You Need to Know

We’ve all been taught that freedom comes with age, but what does it really mean when it comes to intimacy and relationships? In California, the age of consent plays a crucial role in determining when someone is legally able to give their consent to engage in sexual activities.

These laws are often misunderstood or ignored altogether, leading to serious legal repercussions. Fortunately, there are some simple laws that everyone should be aware of before making any kind of intimate decision.

In this blog, we’ll walk you through the laws surrounding the age of consent in California, what happens if you violate them, and how our sex crimes lawyers can help you protect yourself against allegations.

Read on or reach out to The Nieves Law Firm today.

What is the Age of Consent in California?

The age of consent is the age at which a person can legally consent to sexual activity. In California, it’s 18 years old, meaning anyone under this age cannot legally consent to have sex with someone else, no matter how willing they may be.

The “Marriage Exception”

Believe it or not, there is one exception to California’s strict age of consent rule, and it’s quite ironic. Per Penal Code 261.5, engaging in sex with a minor is considered statutory rape unless the two individuals are legally married.

California law does not set a minimum age for marriage, meaning it’s legal to marry a minor as long as the parents consent and there’s a corresponding court order.

Sex within that marital relationship is not considered a crime, even if one or both spouses are below the age of consent. This exception may seem bizarre, but it’s essential to know for those navigating the complexities of California’s age of consent laws.

Age of Consent Vs. Romeo and Juliet Laws

Romeo and Juliet laws (“close-in-age exemptions”) offer an exception to most states’ age of consent law. An example is when two people are close in age, say a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old, who engage in consensual sexual activity despite their ages.

This is allowed under certain circumstances due to Romeo and Juliet laws, protecting minors from prosecution based on their partner’s age.

However, it’s important to note that California is one of the few states that does not have Romeo and Juliet laws. That means if a minor engages in sexual activity with another minor or someone older than them, even if it’s consensual, it’s still considered statutory rape.

What Happens if You Violate California Age of Consent Laws?

If you violate the age of consent laws in California, you could face serious consequences, including charges of statutory rape. Statutory rape is defined as having sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 18. It is considered a “wobbler” offense in California, which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

The primary determining factor in the classification is the difference in age between you and the alleged victim.

Here’s what you can expect if you violate California’s age of consent laws:

  • A defendant within three years of the alleged victim’s age can face misdemeanor charges, up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and probation.
  • Defendants over three years older than the alleged victim can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, with up to three years in state prison for a felony.
  • Defendants 21 or older with a victim under 16 face two to four years in state prison.

In addition to facing criminal charges, a conviction for statutory rape can also result in civil penalties. Understanding and following California’s age of consent laws is crucial to avoid serious legal consequences.

Possible Defense Strategies Using Age of Consent Laws

If you’re facing charges of statutory rape, the age of consent is a critical factor that your defense team will consider. Some common defense strategies include arguing that the alleged victim had already reached the age of consent at the time of the sexual act or that you reasonably believed they were of legal age.

It’s also possible to argue that you believed the victim was not a minor. These defenses require strong evidence and careful presentation, so it’s important to work with an experienced sex crimes lawyer who can help you build a compelling case.

Tips for Protecting Yourself or Your Child

Here are four tips to help you navigate the complex rules and regulations surrounding the age of consent in California:

  • Remember that California’s age of consent is 18, meaning anyone under 18 cannot legally consent to any sexual activity.
  • Familiarize yourself with California’s child pornography laws, which prohibit sending explicit pictures or videos from one person under the legal age to another.
  • Educate yourself on the potential consequences of violating California’s age of consent laws. Even if both parties are minors and consent to the sexual activity, they can still face serious criminal charges and potentially lifelong consequences.
  • Seek legal counsel if you’re unsure about the legality of a sexual relationship involving a minor. A criminal defense lawyer can provide expert guidance and help ensure you stay on the right side of the law.

Need Legal Help? Contact the Nieves Law Firm Today.

Have you been accused of violating California’s age of consent laws? Get legal counsel as soon as possible. A statutory rape conviction can have serious and long-lasting consequences, including jail time, fines, and a criminal record.

At the Nieves Law Firm, we have the experience and knowledge to defend clients accused of sex crimes, including statutory rape. We understand these cases can be complex and emotionally charged. We are committed to providing you with compassionate and effective legal representation. Contact us today for a consultation.

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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