“But I thought that she was 16!”
Often, when someone is accused of statutory rape in Alabama, these are the first words uttered. While the accused may have reasonably and properly thought that the other person was at least 16 years old, the accused can still be liable for statutory rape.
Statutory Rape Defined
Under Alabama law, statutory rape is when someone who has reached the age of consent, which is someone 16 years old or older, has sex with someone under the age of 16. The law is premised on the idea that someone below the age of sixteen lacks capacity to consent to sex. As such, sex with that person is not consensual and is therefore rape.
Note that if the parties are legally married and reside in Alabama, then the person aged 16 or older did not commit statutory rape. Thus, a 20-year-old who has sex with his 13-year-old wife has not committed statutory rape.
It is called statutory rape because the statute, or law, defines it as such. The law also makes an exception that if the person over 16 is less than two years older than the person under 16, then it is not statutory rape.
The punishment for statutory rape is harsh in Alabama. “A person commits the crime of rape in the first degree if…[h]e or she, being 16 years or older, engages in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex who is less than 12 years old.” First degree rape in Alabama carries a prison sentence of 10 to 99 years.
If a person over the age of 16 engages in sexual intercourse with someone who is between the ages of 12 and 16 and is more than two years younger, the person committed second degree rape. Second degree rape carries a prison sentence of two to 20 years.
In addition, any person convicted of statutory rape is required to register with the Alabama Sex Offender Registry. The registry is public and creates a stigma. There are also certain restrictions upon those registered. Once registered, a person cannot remove himself or herself from the registry.
Strict Liability Crime
Statutory rape in Alabama is a strict liability crime. This means that a person’s intent is not a relevant aspect of the crime; liability for the crime is based strictly on a person’s actions. Therefore, even if the actor reasonably believes that the other person is 16, the actor would still be liable for statutory rape.
As mentioned, a reasonable belief that the other person was of the age of consent is not a defense. A proper defense would either be that nothing happened or that someone else committed the act. Often, the prosecution would call the other party to the stand to testify against the defendant. In that instance, the defense will usually try to impeach the witness, which means that the defense will question the witness’s credibility.
If you are accused of statutory rape, know that punishment upon conviction is harsh. You need a lawyer who will fight for your rights. Contact the law firm of Parkman White, LLP, Alabama criminal defense attorneys who are “up for the fight.”