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Teach Your Children − the Legal Perils of High School Sex

Michelle was 12 years old and in 7th grade, but her neighbor and best friend was 16 and in high school. The two girls walked to school together every morning since their schools were only three blocks apart.  Chris, a 17-year-old athlete at the local high school, often joined the girls on their way to school. Michelle informed Chris she was also 16, and told him that he hadn’t seen her on campus because she attended a private school.

Chris began dating Michelle, who was the same height as her 16 year old neighbor, and looked considerably older than 12 when she was wearing make-up. When Michelle turned 13, she told Chris she was now 17, and they started a sexual relationship. When Michelle’s parents found out that Chris was having sexual relations with their 13 year old daughter, they called the police.

Is Chris doomed to a felony conviction, a stretch in prison and sex offender registration?

How is statutory rape defined in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, the age of consent – meaning, the age at which a minor can give legal consent to sexual acts – is 16. Therefore, a man having any sexually intimate contact with a female minor under age 16 is guilty of a second degree felony offense called “statutory sexual assault” if he is four or more years older than the victim. Statutory sexual assault becomes more serious as the age of the assailant increases, and can be charged as a first degree felony if the assailant is 11 or more years older than the minor victim.

A possible defense

What about 17 year old Chris and 13 year old Michelle? Chris is four years older than Michelle, so he falls within the ambit of the statutory sexual assault law. Chris wants to assert a mistake as to age defense, since Michelle lied to him and told him she was 17 and, indeed, gave every appearance of being 16 or older.

Under Pennsylvania law, if Michelle was between the ages of 14 and 16 when she and Chris had sex, Chris could defend himself on the basis that he believed she was older than 16 (or at least older than 14), and less than 4 years younger than he is. The burden would be on Chris to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it was more likely than not, that his belief was true and well-founded.

Unfortunately for Chris, Michelle is not between 14 and 16 but only 13. The statute excludes the mistake as to age defense in such cases. Sexual offenses against minors under the age of 14 are strict liability crimes, meaning that the older party is wholly responsible for violation of the statute even if he is misled by the victim.

If you have been accused of sexual assault on an underage minor, you want the guidance of an experienced Berks County statutory sexual assault attorney.

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