In legal terms, rape is a criminal act that is generally categorized as a violent felony. It is important to note that each state in the United States has its own set of criminal laws, including specific laws about what constitutes the act of rape. However, the general definition of rape is the act of having unlawful sexual intercourse without a person’s consent, regardless of the victim’s gender.
There are many different instances in which a person may be charged with rape, including:
- When an indivivudal engages in sexual intercourse against another person’s will, or without that person’s consent, by using force, violence, fraud, fear, or duress;
- When one is too Intoxicated to provide proper consent, and the other party engages in sexual conduct with them;
- When a person engages in sexual conduct with another person, and that person suffers from a mental or physical disability which prevents them from being able to properly consent to the sexual conduct; and/or
- When a person engages in sexual conduct with another person who at the time is incapacitated. This means that the victim at the time was unaware that they are engaging in a sexual act. For example, sexual acts on an individual who is asleep would be considered rape.
There are different forms of rape which are categorized depending on the factors that are present during the criminal act. Factors may include the individuals’ ages and the relationship between the two parties. Different types of rape charges include:
Date rape occurs when unlawful sexual intercourse is committed during a social engagement between the perpetrator and the victim. Additionally, date rape may occur when the victim has been drugged and the perpetrator has sexual intercourse with them.
Martial rape is, quite simply, rape that occurs in a marriage. This type of rape occurs when one spouse forces a sexual act on the other spouse without their consent. It is important to note that martial rape has not always been recognized as a criminal offense. However, it is now considered to be a serious crime, and the defendant is not permitted to use marriage as a defense in a rape case.
Additionally, some states divide rape into degrees based on the seriousness of the offense. First degree rape may include severe physical injuries, and carries harsher punishments compared to second degree rape. Alternatively, second degree rape may not involve any physical injuries beyond the incident itself.
What Is Statutory Rape?
Statutory rape refers to unlawful sexual intercourse with a person who is under the age of consent, regardless of whether the sexual act was actually consensual. The age of consent may vary by state but generally ranges from 16 to 18 years of age. However, even a person who is 19 years of age and has sexual intercourse with another person who is 17 may still face statutory rape charges. An example of this would be when that state’s age of consent is 18.
While the statutes defining statutory rape vary from state to state, it has historically been defined as the act of sexual intercourse by an older person with a female who is considered to be a minor. As such, it is common for states to define it in a two-level approach:
- Sexual intercourse with a very young girl, while the exact age limit varies from state to state) is punishable at the level of forcible rape; and
- Sexual intercourse with an older girl (especially if the man is older by a certain number of years) is usually considered a lesser degree felony
Most statutes refer to victims and perpetrators as “persons” rather than mention a specific gender or sex. However, enforcement of statutory rape laws against adult women who have sex with boys below the age of consent is not always reported and not always prosecuted.
Historically, state prosecutors didn’t always bring charges against women who commit statutory rape against minor boys because there was a social stereotype that the teenage or minor boy was “lucky” or that the statutory rape was okay because the boy wanted the sex. However, State laws have evolved to cover all genders and gender identities, as well as dissolve social stereotypes having influence over the laws.
How Is Statutory Rape Defined In North Carolina?
To reiterate, statutory rape involves engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor, regardless of whether the victim wanted to have sexual intercourse. This means that with a rape charge, the age of the victim does not matter. The issue is whether the victim properly consented to having sex, or if they were forced into sex without their explicit consent.
There are three separate statutory rape crimes in North Carolina. All statutory rape crimes are first-degree statutory rape, and they include:
- First degree statutory rape;
- Statutory rape of a child by an adult; and
- Statutory rape of person who is 15 years of age or younger.
All three crimes involve the perpetrator engaging in vaginal intercourse with a minor. First-degree statutory rape is the crime of engaging in vaginal intercourse with a victim under 13 years old. The perpetrator must be both at least 12 years old and four or more years older than their victim. Thus, a person who is 14 years old can only be guilty of this crime if their victim is 10 years old or younger.
Just like with all other rape crimes in North Carolina, anyone who is convicted of first-degree statutory rape is not allowed to have any parental rights of a child who is born as a result of the criminal sexual activity. These rights include custody rights and rights of inheritance. In North Carolina, first-degree statutory rape is a Class B1 felony. The punishment for a first-time conviction of a Class B1 felony is 192 to 240 months in prison.
Are There Any Defenses To Statutory Rape?
There are a few defenses to statutory rape:
- Mistake of Age: The defendant can argue that he or she believed that the victim was over the age of consent. However, this defense varies from state to state. Some states hold that statutory rape is a crime of strict liability; it doesn’t matter what the defendant believed. Other states will limit mistake of age to certain circumstances. Other states will allow the defense if the defendant can show they had a reasonable basis for their mistaken belief about age;
- Rape by Fraud: The defendant argues that the minor purposely misrepresented his or her age to have sex with the defendant. In other words, the defendant is the victim of the minor’s twisted desire to have sex with someone older than the law permits. This defense is very new, so it will be difficult to guess whether this defense has any legitimacy;
- “Romeo and Juliet”: Many states have exceptions to statutory rape based on the age difference between the partners; and/or
- Mental Incapacity: The defendant argues that he or she is insane.
Once again, rape is a serious crime and is considered to be a violent felony. Penalties for rape convictions vary by state and depend on the facts and circumstances of each individual case. However, a conviction may very likely result in incarceration for the defendant, along with possible criminal fines.
The length of time an individual is required to serve in prison will depend on the severity of the crime and whether or not the defendant has any prior convictions for rape or other felonies. In certain cases, a conviction for rape may result in a life sentence for the defendant, depending on the facts shown at trial.
The potential penalties and incarceration time increases if the offense involved a minor or if the offense resulted in the death of the victim. Some states require a minimum prison sentence or may require a court to impose a sentence that does not include probation or early parole.
In other states, the court may have discretion regarding the length of the defendant’s sentence. The court may also have discretion regarding whether or not the defendant can serve any portion of their sentence on probation rather than in prison.
Do I Need A Lawyer For First Degree Statutory Rape In North Carolina?
If you have been arrested or charged with first degree statutory rape, you should immediately contact a North Carolina criminal defense lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your state’s specific laws on statutory rape, and how those laws will affect your legal rights and options.
An attorney will also determine whether there are any legal defenses available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, an experienced attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, throughout the process.