Sexual offenses are serious crimes. If convicted, the defendant faces heavy consequences such as lengthy prison sentences, heavy fines and lifelong registration as a sex offender. And when the victim is a minor, the penalties can be particularly harsh. However, there are defenses that can be asserted, including the close-in-age exemption to statutory rape.

Statutory rape is defined as sexual penetration of someone who is below the age of consent, which is 16 in Pennsylvania. In a prosecution for statutory rape, the presence or lack of consent is irrelevant. The age of the participants is the overriding factor. Consequently, a minor could theoretically be prosecuted for statutory rape of another minor.

However, there are defenses to statutory rape that have been created by statute:

  • Close in Age — This exemption is often referred to as the “Romeo & Juliet” law, named for the Shakespeare play in which the lovers were teenagers. The law is based on the premise that when minors close in age have sexual relations, it is unlikely that one coerced the other. In Pennsylvania, there will be no prosecution for statutory rape or any other sex crime when one participant is at least 13 and the other is less than four years older.
  • Marriage — If the two individuals, one of whom is a minor, have entered into a valid marriage, sexual acts that would otherwise be considered statutory rape will not be subject to prosecution. For example, the wife is 16 and the husband is 21. This exemption applies only to Pennsylvania couples married before July 7, 2020, the effective date of the law that raised the marital age to 18. However, it also applies to couples married in other states with lower age thresholds.
  • Mistake of Age — Pennsylvania is among the few states that allows an accused defendant to escape conviction of statutory rape by proving they had no reason to know or believe the minor was under the age of consent. The honesty and reasonableness of the defendant’s claim is critical to a mistake-of-age defense.

As in any other criminal case, a defendant can seek to disprove the allegations. But defending against charges of sex crimes involving minors is made more difficult by limitations in confronting the accuser. Although the alleged victim can testify, a careful defense strategy must avoid any attempt to incriminate him or her and at the same time must use all available means to expose false or inconsistent testimony. An experienced criminal defense attorney can analyze each case and formulate the best strategy.

If you or a family member have been charged with a sex offense against a minor in Pennsylvania, the office of Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law can provide aggressive representation. We work tirelessly to get you the best result possible given the facts and circumstances of your specific case. Contact me online or call me at 814-443-1631 to set-up an initial consultation at my Somerset office.