NJ Statutory Rape Charges and Age of Consent Explained

age of consent

A rape accusation can derail your future, creating a stigma that sticks with you for the rest of your life. A conviction for rape could have immediate ramifications, especially if you are sentenced to significant time in prison. Some rape charges are referred to as “statutory rape” in New Jersey because they automatically apply based on the underlying statutory law, and the defendant’s guilt in these cases is basically presumed. Another term for this is “strict liability rape,” which means that a person is strictly liable based solely on their actions and regardless of whether it can be proven that they actually intended to commit the offense. One of the most common examples of statutory rape is when an adult has sexual intercourse with a minor. If you have been accused of having sex with a minor, or if you face any other type of statutory rape charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense and sex crimes attorney immediately. The tactically skilled lawyers at William Proetta Criminal Law are prepared to assist with your statutory rape case in Hudson County and throughout New Jersey. Contact our Jersey City office at (201) 793-8018 for a free consultation regarding your specific sex crime allegations. To learn more about statutory rape in New Jersey, including how you can contest the charges, keep reading.

What Is the Statutory Rape Law in New Jersey?

Most rape charges stem from non-consensual sex, with the offender committing an act of sexual penetration with a victim who has not consented to the sex. By contrast, statutory rape usually involves sex that, at first glance, would appear to be consensual between both parties. But because one of the parties is underage, it is not actually possible for them to provide legal consent. The idea behind the statutory rape law is that a person who has not yet reached the age of 16 is simply too young to be making decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity.

Additionally, it is not a defense against a statutory rape charge to argue that you did not realize the victim was underage at the time of the offense. That’s because the statutory rape law is designed to protect minors at all costs. The bottom line is that it is extremely important to understand the law regarding age of consent in New Jersey, especially if you have been accused of statutory rape.

What Is the Age of Consent in NJ?

New Jersey has an age of consent of 16 years of age. This means that no one below the age of 16 is legally capable of giving consent for any kind of sexual activity. It won’t matter that the underage individual was agreeable to sex or otherwise “consented” to sex. That’s because, by definition, they cannot consent to sex. As a result, anyone who has sex with a minor under the age of 16 could face statutory rape charges.

Although the law in this area is clear, there is an exception that may allow a person who has sex with a minor to avoid criminal charges. There is something known as the “close in age exception” (or the “Romeo and Juliet defense”), which provides an exception to the NJ statutory rape law when the two people having sex are close enough in age. This exception typically applies when two teenagers, for instance, a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old, have sexual intercourse. Even though one of the parties might be below the age of 16, their proximity in age means that the statutory rape law won’t necessarily come into play.

NJ Criminal Charges for Statutory Rape & Punishments

There is not technically a “statutory rape” charge in the New Jersey Criminal Code. Rather, statutory rape is usually charged as something else like sexual assault, with the severity of the offense affecting the degree of the charge and the possible penalties that the defendant might be exposed to. The specific criminal charges a person may face for statutory rape include the following:

  • Aggravated Sexual Assault: A person can be convicted of aggravated sexual assault under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2, which sets forth severe penalties for any person who commits an act of sexual penetration with a minor under the age of 13, or with any minor under the age of 16 when the offender is either the child’s parent or is acting in a supervisory capacity. Aggravated sexual assault is a special kind of first degree felony that carries a minimum prison sentence of 25 years, and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
  • Sexual Assault: Sexual assault charges are also governed by N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2, which states that anyone who commits an act of sexual contact with a child under the age of 13, or who commits an act of sexual penetration with a child between the ages of 13 and 16, may be charged with a second degree felony. One limitation on the scope of the law is that the offender must be at least four years older than the child victim. A conviction on sexual assault charges is punishable by a sentence of 5-10 years in prison, as well as a requirement to register as a convicted sex offender under Megan’s Law. Additionally, there is a presumption of incarceration, which means that you are likely to face an automatic prison sentence if convicted.
  • Criminal Sexual Contact: As set forth by N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3, it is a felony-level sexual offense for anyone to commit an act of sexual contact with a minor under the age of 16. This means that even if the accused did not engage in sex involving penetration, they can still be charged with statutory rape merely by virtue of having made sexual contact (ie. intimate touching) with an underage victim. Criminal sexual contact is a fourth degree felony, and it is punishable by a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison.

Defending a Statutory Rape Case in NJ

If you’ve been formally accused of statutory rape, the stakes are clearly very high. The good news is that there are strong defenses against a statutory rape charge, depending on the circumstances and facts of the case. One of the strongest defenses against a statutory rape charge is the close-in-age exception already discussed above. As long as the offender and the victim were both minors, and their ages were close enough – within four years of each other – then it may be possible to get a statutory rape charge for sexual assault or criminal sexual contact reduced to a lesser offense that is not classified as a felony sex crime, or perhaps even get the charge dismissed entirely. Beyond that, depending on the facts of the case, there may be other statutory rape defenses available, such as the admissibility of DNA evidence, whether all rape kit testing procedures were properly followed by authorities, challenging the credibility of any witnesses in the case, etc.

Speak to a NJ Statutory Rape Defense Attorney at Our Jersey City Office

If you are facing statutory rape charges in New Jersey, the first thing you need to do is speak with a knowledgeable sex offense lawyer who will make sure that no stone is left unturned when mounting your defense and fighting back against the charges. The reality is that competent legal representation can make the difference between winning and losing your statutory rape case. The attorneys at William Proetta Criminal Law are highly prepared to uncover the facts and circumstances that offer your best strategy for defending against rape allegations. From our local offices in Hudson County, we serve clients in all of these cities and towns, such as Hoboken, Jersey City, Kearny, Union City, Secaucus, Bayonne, and Weehawken.

If you are seeking legal counsel and further information regarding New Jersey statutory rape laws, penalties, and defenses, we can help. Simply call (201) 793-8018 today for a free consultation.

William Proetta

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.