In Arizona, the age of consent is 18 years. Anyone who is yet to blow their 18th birthday candles is considered legally incapable of giving sexual conduct consent. This includes consenting to both sexual contact and intercourse. Therefore you are on the wrong side of the law and can face sex crime charges if you have sexual contact with a minor (anyone who is 17 years or younger). The crime is a wobble offense, although it is often charged as a felony. If you face statutory rape (sexual contact with a minor) charges, don’t delay seeking legal representation. At the Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we understand the seriousness of the charges and the possible penalties. We also have the knowledge and experience to provide reliable legal defense to ensure the best possible outcome.
Arizona laws provide certain exceptions that allow people of the same age bracket to have consensual sex without breaking the law. Then again, these exceptions don’t apply in all situations. Because of the complicated nature of rules that define sex crimes, it is best to seek legal counsel as soon as you are arrested or charged. Our decades of experience handling sex crime cases allows us to vigorously fight for our client’s rights, even if it means pushing a case to trial.
Arizona Consent Laws
Age of consent laws define when someone is legally capable of consenting to sexual conduct with another individual. In Arizona, like in most states, there are strict laws that dictate the legal age of consent. ARS 13-1405 makes it a crime to willfully or knowingly engage in sexual conduct with a person below 18 years.
Scientific research shows that persons below 18 years, including teenagers and children, have underdeveloped brains. As such, they have reduced ability to make well thought out decisions about sexual activities. As such, sex with a minor also referred to as statutory rape, is a grave criminal offense that attracts devastating legal consequences.
Children go through a range of developmental stages before they turn into young adults. The adolescence stage is notorious for combining a range of intense emotions and hormones that teens struggle to keep under control. ARS 13-1405 is a law that protects the youth from predatory adults who may want to take advantage of their situation.
That said, you can be charged with statutory rape whether a minor agreed to the sexual relations or you forced yourself on them. According to the law, the youth’s brain cannot fully comprehend the long-term repercussions of a sexual relationship. Therefore, age of consent laws protect these young individuals from situations that may cause unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and a whole host of regrets.
Can an Adult Date a Minor?
The consent laws make it unlawful to engage in sexual contact with a minor. So, is dating a minor illegal? Under Arizona laws, dating a person who is 17 years or younger is not a crime. However, you must refrain from any form of sexual conduct until they turn 18. This includes not just sexual intercourse but also oral sex and anything termed as a sexual activity.
Sex Crimes Related To Age Of Consent and Their Penalties
There are two main types of sex crimes allied with having sexual conduct with someone who is under 18 years. They include:
- Statutory rape
- Sexual abuse
Generally, statutory rape is the crime of having sexual conduct with a minor (person under 18 years). Arizona laws define the crime as the act of willfully or knowingly having oral sexual contact or intercourse with a minor.
Oral sexual contact is any touch between the mouth and private organs such as the vulva, anus, or penis. On the other hand, the law defines sexual intercourse as any penetration into the vulva, anus, or penis using any object or body part.
As aforementioned, sex crimes allied with the age of consent are wobble offenses. Whether you will face felony or misdemeanor charges may highly depend on the facts of your case.
If you are 18 years or older and the alleged victim is younger than 12 years or between 13 and 15 years, you may face Class 2 felony charges. The presence of mitigating or mitigating factors may influence the punishment imposed. Generally, the penalty may be as follows:
When the minor is younger than 12 years
- Mandatory jail time for 35 years to Life (ARS 13-705 (DCAC))
When the youth is 13 to 15 years
- Incarceration for 13 to 27 years (ARS 13-705 (DCAC))
Sentencing highly depends on a victim’s age and also the age of the accused. It is best to note that the sentence vastly changes depending on the facts of a case and the age differences between those involved. When the accused is 18 years or older and the minor is between 15 and 17 years, the prosecution may impose Class 6 felony charges.
If convicted, the penalty may be as follows:
- Probation for up to 12 months or,
- Jail time for 4months to 2 years
The imposed sentence is different when the accused is also a minor (17 years or younger). When the victim is 12 years or younger, the accused may face Class 2 felony charges. In this case, the punishment may include:
When the victim is 12 years or younger
- Probation for up to 12 months or,
- Imprisonment for 3 to 5 years
Even if you are also a minor, it is a criminal offense to have sexual contact with another minor. If the victim is between 12 to 15 years, the prosecution may impose Class 2 felony charges. In this case, sentencing may include:
When the victim is 12 to 15 years
- Probation for up to 12 months or,
- Imprisonment for 3 to 5 years
When the accused is also a minor and the victim is between 15 and 17 years old, the crime is classified as a Class 2 felony. However, it is not criminalized because of the Romeo and Juliet law exception.
Sexual abuse in relation to sex crimes is described as the act of willfully or knowingly engaging in sexual contact with a minor. Sexual contact is, in this case, defined as using an object or any part of the body to fondle, touch or manipulate a victim’s genitals, breast or anus. A defendant older than 18 years may face sexual abuse charges when the victim is:
Younger than 15 years when contact solely involves touching
Even with the Romeo and Juliet exception, defendants can face charges if they engage in non-consensual sexual contact. When a defendant is also a minor, they may face sexual abuse charges if the victim is:
Older than 15 years and without their permission or
Again, sentencing is highly influenced by the presence of mitigating or aggravating factors. When a victim is 15 years or older, the prosecution may impose Class 5 felony charges. If convicted, the penalty may include:
- Incarceration for 6 months to 3 years and nine months
When a victim is younger than 15 years, the prosecution may impose Class 3 felony charges. If you are convicted, the punishment may be as follows:
- Jail time for 2.5 years to 22 years
Child molestation is when a defendant of any age engages in sexual contact with a minor aged 14 or younger without penetration. This is a Class 2 felony, and the penalty may depend on the age of the victim. Note that the Romeo and Juliet Law exception cannot apply if there is an age difference of more than 24 months between the defendant and their victim.
If the minor is 14 years, the punishment may include:
- Up to 5 years jail time
If the minor is younger than 14 years, the penalty may be as follows:
- Jail time for up to 20 years
Arizona Sex Offender Registry
If convicted of statutory rape, child molestation, or sexual abuse where the victim is under 18 years, you must enter the Arizona sex offender register.
Understanding the Aggravating Factors
As we have mentioned severally, sentencing is highly influenced by the presence of aggravating factors. When a case involves aggravating factors, a judge is forced to impose harsher penalties. These factors include:
- Prior felony convictions
- An age difference of more than five years between a defendant and their victim who is under 12 years
- An age difference of over ten years where the victim is under 16 years
- A defendant is a registered sex offender
- The defendant is in a position of trust
When the defendant is of a “position of trust,” they cannot use consent as a defense. The prosecution is likely to work on proving that sexual contact happened without the consent of a victim. Under ARS 13 1401, persons in a position of trust include:
- Parents — This includes biological parents, foster parents, legal guardians, adoptive parents, and stepparents
- Teachers — This includes educators in a minor’s current or previous school. It also encompasses not only academic teachers but also religious teachers, coaches, and extra-curricular instructors.
- Priests or Clergymen — Men of the cloth in the current pastoral setting of a minor
- A Parent’s Significant Other — Anyone in a sexual or romantic relationship with the parent of a minor (see the description for parent above)
Understanding the Exceptions
Arizona has exceptions that excuse certain people from facing criminal charges when they violate laws that govern the age of consent restrictions. These exemptions include:
Romeo and Juliet Law Exemption
The “Romeo and Juliet law” is a close-in-age exception. It focuses on protecting underage couples from facing criminal charges when they:
- Are both 15 years or older
- Engage in consensual sexual contact
- Have an age difference of no more than two years
Under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-407, as long as the victim is at least 15 years old, a defendant can use the Romeo and Juliet law as a defense if:
- They are under 19 years or still attending high school
- The age difference between the accused and the alleged victim is no more than two years
While sex between two teenagers is an exception, a defendant can face criminal charges even if the age difference between them and their victim is slightly more than 24 months. This means that the accused cannot use the Romeo and Juliet Law as a defense if the age difference between them and their victim is 25 months.
Mistaken Identity Exception
One of the elements the prosecution must prove is that the accused “willfully and knowingly” engaged in sexual conduct with a minor. That said, you may not face charges if you had reason to believe that an alleged victim was above 18 years old.
For instance, it could be that you met the minor in an environment where you hardly meet teenagers, such as a bar or tavern. It could also be that the minor produced an ID that otherwise seemed authentic. Even though sexual conduct with the minor is still illegal, the court is likely to drop the charges for lack of intent. Even so, you are tasked with proving that you didn’t know that your victim was a minor.
Best Defenses for Violating Age Of Consent Restrictions
Sex offenses are prosecuted vigorously, more so when a victim is underage. All the same, there are various defenses an accused may use depending on the facts of a case. It remains imperative to enlist the services of a seasoned criminal defense attorney who can help set up a strong defense on your behalf.
Note that defendants are rarely acquitted, especially when aggravating factors exist. However, the best defense strategies can easily persuade the prosecution to offer you a better plea deal. They could also have your charges reduced, ensuring less severe punishment.
Here are just some of the defenses that may come in handy when accused of violating age of consent restrictions:
Romeo and Juliet Law
The Romeo and Juliet Law gives an exception when teenagers engage in sexual conduct. In this case, the accused must be no more than 19 years old, or they should be in high school. Additionally, the age difference between the accused and a victim must not exceed 2 years (24 months).
Another exception is if the accused had reason to believe that a victim was of legal age and able to consent. As we mentioned earlier, it is up to the accused to prove that the victim gave them enough reason to believe they were at least 18 years old. Note that this defense may not be of much use if a victim is under 15 years.
The authorities don’t take lightly sex crimes that involve minors. Often, they conduct intense interrogations that may leave the alleged perpetrator of a crime between a rock and a hard place. As such, it is not foreign for defendants to admit to an offense under coercion. An attorney can defend you by attacking the authorities’ conduct and claiming that your confession was coerced.
Sometimes, it is possible to build a defense based on the prosecution’s lack of sufficient physical evidence. This defense can work if all the prosecution has the testimony of the victim. Unfortunately, it is not foreign for alleged victims to have ulterior motives and fabricate lies about sexual contact with the accused.
In any criminal case, the prosecution bears the burden of proof. As such, it is up to the prosecutor to table evidence or bring forth a witness that can confirm the allegations made against you. Sometimes, an ex-romantic partner may want to see the accused behind bars and lie that they sexually abused their child.
Even as the prosecution carries out investigations, you have to find a reliable defense team. Your attorney will also investigate the allegations you face to find loopholes that may work in your favor. Any evidence unveiled during the investigations can be an integral part of building a winning defense strategy.
Illegally Obtained Evidence
During investigations, the police may collect pieces of evidence such as clothing items for DNA tests. However, they must obtain a search warrant to gather the required evidence. If the authorities fail to follow procedural requirements, any evidence they collect is illegally obtained and cannot be used in court.
Lack of Witness Credibility
The prosecution can table evidence in the form of the account of a witness. However, certain circumstances make the testimony of a witness questionable. For instance, your attorney could attack the credibility of a witness based on the key differences between their account of what happened and the testimony of the alleged victim.
Sometimes, what looks like sexual contact with a minor can be purely incidental. This is more so when a case involves minor children. For instance, if the accused is someone living in the same home as a youth and maybe their parents, incidental contact may happen. It could be that the accused bathed the child because they were unwell or were just helping them to get ready. Note that this defense is only likely to work well when the defendant can provide character witnesses.
The above is not an exhaustive list of the defenses a skilled attorney can use. Talk to your attorney immediately to learn about other defenses that can be applied in your case.
Find A Phoenix Criminal Attorney Near Me
Fighting sex crime charges can be highly emotional, especially when the victim and the accused are minors. We understand the severity of the situation and can provide the much-needed legal counsel. At the Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we can help you build a solid defense strategy to increase the chances of enjoying a favorable outcome. Call us immediately at 602-551-8092 for a confidential and free initial consultation. We want to discuss the facts of your case and forge the best way forward.