Age of consent is a legal concept that designates the age at which a person is considered legally competent to consent to sexual activities. This means a person below this age is not considered legally capable of agreeing to sexual behavior, and any sexual activity involving them can be considered statutory rape or other types of sexual abuse, depending on the jurisdiction.
The legal age of consent in North Dakota is 18 years old.
Mistake of Fact as a Defense
In the context of statutory rape laws and the age of consent, “mistake of fact” may be used as a defense in some jurisdictions. This defense arises when the accused genuinely and reasonably believed that the minor with whom they had sexual relations was above the age of consent.
However, the usage and acceptance of the “mistake of fact” defense varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, statutory rape is considered a strict liability crime, meaning that the accused’s mental state or understanding of the facts is irrelevant to their guilt or innocence. A reasonable mistake about the victim’s age is not a defense in these jurisdictions
North Dakota’s law (N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-20-03) specifically provides that ignorance or mistake regarding the victim’s age is not a defense to a charge of gross sexual imposition involving a victim under the age of fifteen. But if the minor is 15 or older, it can be a defense that the defendant thought the child was an adult.
Let’s consider a hypothetical example, but remember, this is a simplified example, and real cases are generally much more complex and nuanced:
Imagine that Bill, a 20-year-old college student, meets Jane at a college fraternity party. Jane, who is actually 16 years old but attending the college party, tells Bill that she’s 19 and a fellow student. She looks, talks, and acts mature for her age, and she presents a fake ID that says she’s 19. Believing Jane to be above the age of consent, Bill engages in sexual activity with her. A few weeks later, Bill is charged with statutory rape after Jane’s parents find out and report him to the police.
In court, Bill could potentially use the “mistake of fact” defense, arguing that he genuinely and reasonably believed Jane to be above the age of consent. He could present evidence such as text messages where Jane stated her age as 19, testimonies from others at the party who also believed Jane was 19, and the fake ID Jane used.
However, the success of this defense would be highly dependent on how the law is interpreted in North Dakota, the specific facts of the case, and the court’s judgment. The court would need to consider whether Bill’s belief was genuinely reasonable under the circumstances. This is a legal gray area, and the judge or jury would have the final say on whether the defense is accepted. The example is illustrative and doesn’t guarantee the outcome in any similar real-life situation.
In North Dakota, statutory rape is generally considered to be a strict liability crime.
The North Dakota Century Code Section 12.1-20-03 states that a person who engages in a sexual act with another or who causes another to engage in a sexual act is guilty of an offense if the victim is less than fifteen years old. The code further specifies that neither lack of knowledge of the victim’s age nor consent to the act by the victim is a defense.
This is an example of strict liability because the adult involved in the act can be prosecuted regardless of their knowledge or belief about the minor’s age. If the other person is under the age of 15, their belief, even if reasonable, that the person was older does not constitute a defense.
For example, if a 19-year-old in North Dakota engages in sexual activity with a person who is actually 14 but claimed (and even provided a fake ID showing) they were 16, the 19-year-old could still be found guilty of a crime. This is because statutory rape in North Dakota is a strict liability offense: the only fact that matters for these charges is that the person was under 15, not what the older person believed about their age.
Exceptions to the Age of Consent
The age of consent in North Dakota is 18 years old. However, there is a close-in-age exemption for minors aged 15-17 as long as the older partner is less than three years older. This can be seen as a form of “Romeo and Juliet” law, which is intended to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their age.
In terms of other exceptions, Section 12.1-20-05 of the North Dakota code refers to sexual acts between adults and teenagers aged 15, 16, and 17. If an adult engages in, solicits with the intent to engage in, or causes another to engage in a sexual act with a minor, they are guilty of a class A misdemeanor if the victim is a minor fifteen years of age or older.
An adult who solicits with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor under age fifteen or engages in or causes another to engage in a sexual act when the adult is at least twenty-two years of age, and the victim is a minor fifteen years of age or older is guilty of a class C felony.
Under section 12.1-20-07, an adult who has sexual contact with or causes someone else to have sexual contact with a person under the age of 18 is guilty of a class C felony if the adult is at least 22 years of age or class A misdemeanor if the adult is aged 18–21.
However, if the child involved is 14 or younger, ignorance or mistake of the child’s age is not a valid defense. Despite the close-in-age exemption mentioned earlier, North Dakota does not have a formal Romeo and Juliet law. This means that it is possible for two individuals both under the age of 18 who willingly engage in intercourse to both be prosecuted for statutory rape, although this is rare.
Punishment for Statutory Rape in North Dakota
As per the North Dakota Century Code Section 12.1-20-03, anyone who engages in sex with a minor under the age of 15, or causes them to engage in a sexual act, can be charged with gross sexual imposition, a felony.
The punishment for such a crime is dependent on the specifics of the case, such as the accused’s prior criminal history, the specific circumstances of the act, and other factors. As per the North Dakota Century Code Section 12.1-32-01, a class AA felony is punishable by life imprisonment without parole. A class A felony, depending on the circumstances, can carry a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
It’s also worth noting that in addition to criminal charges, people convicted of such offenses can face significant social consequences. This includes difficulties finding employment, restrictions on where they can live, and mandatory registration as a sex offender.
Consulting an Attorney
Because the potential consequences of a charge of gross sexual imposition are so severe, it’s critical to get legal advice if you’re facing this kind of charge.
Are you looking for a criminal defense attorney in North Dakota? LegalMatch is an excellent platform to help you find the right lawyer for your case. LegalMatch can connect you with pre-screened criminal defense attorneys in your area. Use LegalMatch to get in touch with a North Dakota criminal lawyer who can guide you through your rights, potential defenses, and the complex legal system.