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Statutory Rape and Age of Consent

age of consent

In North Dakota, it is illegal for someone who is over the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity with someone who is under the age of 18, even if the sexual activity is consensual. An adult who engages in sexual activities with someone who is under 18 can be charged with several types of criminal offenses one might commonly refer to as “statutory rape.”   An important part of these charges is the age of consent and the age of the victim.

In these “statutory rape” type cases, the alleged criminality is premised on the idea that minors have not reached the legal age of consent and are therefore incapable of legally consenting to sexual activities. However, there are some exceptions to this law such as if the accused and the alleged victim are close in age. 

Statutory rape type cases are extremely serious.  They can result in serious penalties including prison, jail, enhanced sex offender probation, and the potential for registration as a sexual offender.

If you are facing statutory rape type charges in North Dakota, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Fremstad Law can help.

What is the Legal Age of Consent?

The term legal age of consent refers to the age at which a person can legally consent to engage in sexual activity. In North Dakota, the legal age of consent is 18. If you engage in any sexual activity with someone who has not reached the legal age of consent, you can be charged with a crime.

Statutory Rape Charges and Penalties in North Dakota

In North Dakota, statutory rape is prosecuted under various sex crime laws, including Gross Sexual Imposition, Sexual Imposition, Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child, Corruption or Solicitation of a Minor, and Sexual Assault. Penalties for a conviction will vary depending on the age of the defendant, the age of the victim, and the nature of the sexual conduct and the specific charge the prosecutor decides to pursue.

Gross Sexual Imposition

For “statutory rape” purposes, a person can be charged with Gross Sexual Imposition if they engage in a “sexual act” or “sexual contact” with a minor under the age of fifteen.  Sexual contact means any touching, even over the clothes, of the sexual or other intimate parts of the person, among other things, for purposes of arousing or satisfying sexual or aggressive desires.  Sexual acts include any sexual contact involving penetration between the parties, whoever slight.  Examples of sexual acts include oral, genital, or anal penetration.  If the adult is older than 22, the offense is a class AA felony punishable by at least 5 years in prison and up to life in prison. Otherwise, the crime is a class A felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.   Both types of offenses also require sexual offender supervised probation and registration as a sexual offender. 

Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child

For “statutory rape” purposes, a person can be charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child if the person engages in three or more sexual acts or sexual contacts with a minor under the age of 15 during a period of 3 or more months.  This is a class AA felony if the individual is at least 22 years old.  Otherwise, it is a class A felony.  It too carries with it severe mandatory penalties and sexual offender registration. 

Corruption of a Minor

If the accused defendant allegedly engages in a sexual act with a minor who is 15, 16, or 17 years old, the defendant can be charged with Corruption or Solicitation of a Minor. If the defendant is between 18 and 21 years old, Corruption of a Minor is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 360 days  in prison, a fine of up to $3,000, or both. If the defendant is 22 or older, the crime is a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.  Corruption is a sexual registration offense. 

Sexual Assault

A defendant who engages in sexual contact with a minor who is 15, 16, or 17 years old can be charged with Sexual Assault. If the defendant is between 18 and 21, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 360 days in jail, a fine of up to $3,000, or both. If the defendant was 22 or older, the crime is a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. 

Registration as a Sex Offender

If you are convicted of a statutory rape type crime in North Dakota, you will also need to register as a sex offender.  The minimum period of sexual offender registration is 15 years, but it can be a life sentence. 

Defenses to Charges of Statutory Rape

Someone who is charged with statutory rape has all the usual criminal defenses available, including Constitutional protections, that someone else committed the crime, and that the crime did not occur.

In addition, someone charged with statutory rape in North Dakota can claim mistake of age, or that they are protected under a “Romeo and Juliet” exception.

Mistake of Age

A defendant accused of a crime where the alleged victim is 15, 16, or 17 may claim that they did not know that the victim was underage. They may claim that the victim represented that she was older than she actually was, or that a reasonable person would have believed that the victim was older than she actually was. If the victim was 14 or younger, on the other hand, mistake of age is not a defense.

Romeo and Juliet Defense

Named after the young lovers in the play by William Shakespeare, the Romeo and Juliet exception is intended to avoid criminal consequences for teenagers who engage in consensual sex with someone close to their own age. In North Dakota, the exception applies to consensual acts between someone who is older than 15 and a defendant who is fewer than three years older than the minor.  Unfortunately, there are still ways prosecutors may try to circumvent this provision.  An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help preserve the issue for you and protect you if you have been charged and the exception potentially applies to you. 

Fremstad Law Moves You Forward

If you have been charged with a statutory rape type crime in North Dakota, it is critical that you hire an experienced sex crimes defense attorney as quickly as possible.

North Dakota defense lawyer Nick Thornton passionately represents his clients and is dedicated to doing everything he can to defend someone who is facing serious criminal charges.

Nick fights hard to protect his clients’ rights to due process and will make sure that every one of his clients is afforded the presumption of innocence and is not convicted unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

When Nick takes on a case, he leaves no stone unturned. He thoroughly analyzes and investigates every piece of evidence the prosecution intends to introduce, files motions to suppress evidence and motions to dismiss, and zealously advocates for his clients at trial, in post-conviction proceedings, and on appeal.

If you have been charged with statutory rape or another sex crime, nothing short of the most vigorous legal defense will do. Nick Thornton has the experience and expertise necessary to defend people facing the most serious criminal charges and will work hard to protect his clients and their rights.

Nick Thornton and Fremstad Law are based in Fargo and represent people throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. If you have been charged with statutory rape, Nick Thornton should be your first call.

We invite you to learn more about our mission, and to contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case and how we can help. 

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