The age of consent is a legal threshold established to protect minors from sexual exploitation by adults. Under Arkansas age of consent laws, the age of consent is 16 years old. An individual who is 16 years or older can legally consent to sexual activity with another person.
Age of Consent in Arkansas
Under the Age of Consent
If a person engages in sexual activity with someone below the age of consent, it can lead to serious legal implications. This act is generally referred to as statutory rape.
In Arkansas, statutory rape is divided into four categories:
- Sexual assault in the first degree: If the victim is less than 14 years old, and the offender is at least three years older than the victim.
- Sexual assault in the second degree: If the victim is at least 14 years old but less than 16, and the offender is at least three years older.
- Sexual assault in the third degree: If the victim is at least 16 years old but less than 18, and the offender is in a position of trust or authority.
- Sexual assault in the fourth degree: If the victim is at least 14 years old but less than 16, and the offender is less than 20 years old.
Teachers and Students
In Arkansas, it is illegal for individuals in positions of authority at public or private schools, such as teachers, coaches, or administrators, to engage in sexual conduct with students under 21 years of age who attend the same school (Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-125 (2018)).
Sex Offender Registration
Individuals convicted of certain sexual crimes, including statutory rape, are required by Arkansas state law to register as sex offenders and face fines and prison time (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 12-12-903, 12-12-906 (2018)).
Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge in Arkansas
Defendants charged with statutory rape can utilize the standard defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as claiming that someone else committed the crime or that the alleged conduct did not occur.
Arkansas has a marital exemption for statutory rape, allowing married individuals to engage in consensual sex even if their ages would otherwise be prohibited if they were not married. This exemption stems from the historic marital rape exemption (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-14-124, 5-14-125, 5-14-126, 5-14-127 (2018)).
Minors cannot legally consent to sex, so if 13-year-old Jen willingly has sex with her 19-year-old boyfriend Tommy, Tommy can be charged with rape, as Jen is not legally capable of giving consent. However, if Jen and Tony are married and living in Arkansas, Tommy is protected from criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen due to the marital exemption. If Tommy were to force Jen to have sex against her will, he would not be protected under the law, even if they were married.
The “Romeo and Juliet” Exception
“Romeo and Juliet” exceptions, named after Shakespeare’s famous young lovers, are designed to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age. Arkansas has a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sex between minors who are close in age, as well as in some cases where one party is a minor but the defendant is less than seven years older than the minor.
- Example: If 15-year-old Jane and 17-year-old Mark have consensual sex, the Romeo and Juliet exception would protect Mark from statutory rape charges, as they are close in age and the sexual activity was consensual.
Mistake of Age
Defendants accused of statutory rape may claim they had no reason to know their partner was underage, arguing that the victim misrepresented their age and that a reasonable person would have believed them. However, in Arkansas, even a reasonable mistake regarding the victim’s age is not a valid defense against a statutory rape charge.
- Example: If 22-year-old Sam had consensual sex with 15-year-old Alex, who claimed to be 18 years old, Sam could still be charged with statutory rape, even if Sam genuinely believed Alex was 18 based on their representation.
A defendant may argue that the alleged victim is falsely accusing them of statutory rape due to a personal vendetta, misidentification, or other reasons. In such cases, the defense will try to establish inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s story or provide evidence that the accusation is unfounded.
- Example: A 17-year-old girl falsely accuses her 20-year-old ex-boyfriend of having sex with her when she was 15 as a means of revenge for breaking up with her. The defense attorney uncovers text messages that show the accuser admitting to a friend that she made up the allegations to get back at her ex-boyfriend.
If a defendant can provide a credible alibi, proving they were elsewhere at the time the alleged crime occurred, it may serve as a strong defense against statutory rape charges. A defendant might provide witness testimony, surveillance footage, or other evidence to demonstrate that they were not present at the location of the alleged crime.
- Example: A 19-year-old male is accused of engaging in sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at a party. The accused provides evidence, including security camera footage and witness statements, that he was working at a store several miles away at the time of the alleged incident, effectively proving he could not have committed the crime.
Consent in Case of Age Misrepresentation
While the mistake of age defense generally does not apply in Arkansas, there may be instances where the alleged victim actively deceived the defendant about their age by providing false identification or taking other steps to mislead the defendant. Although this defense is not commonly successful, it might be worth considering in cases where the deception was particularly elaborate or convincing.
- Example: A 22-year-old man meets a girl at a club with a 21+ age requirement. The girl, who is actually 16, presents a fake ID to the club staff and the man, convincing him she is of legal age. They engage in consensual sex, but later the man is accused of statutory rape. In this case, the defense might argue that the girl actively deceived the defendant about her age and that he had no reason to doubt her age, given the circumstances.
Lack of Evidence
A defendant may argue that there is insufficient evidence to support a statutory rape charge. In such cases, the defense will attempt to cast doubt on the prosecution’s evidence, arguing that it is unreliable, insufficient, or fails to meet the burden of proof required for a conviction.
- Example: A 25-year-old man is accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl, but there is no physical evidence or witnesses to support the claim. The prosecution’s case relies solely on the girl’s testimony, which is inconsistent and contradictory. The defense attorney argues that the evidence is insufficient to meet the burden of proof required for a conviction and requests the charges be dismissed.
The success of these defenses depends on the specific circumstances of each case. Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss the available defenses and develop the best legal strategy for your situation.
In 2003, the United States Supreme Court struck down state laws banning consensual homosexual conduct in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. Since then, sodomy laws no longer apply to consensual adult homosexual conduct in the United States, including Arkansas.
Therefore, the age of consent laws apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual conduct in the state.
Consulting a Criminal Lawyer
If you are facing charges related to age of consent laws, or if you have questions about the legal implications of a specific situation, it’s essential to consult with an experienced Arkansas criminal lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can help you understand your rights, explain the potential consequences, and provide the necessary guidance to navigate the legal process.
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