What is Statutory Rape, and What Do the Varying Degrees Mean in Missouri?

Statutory rape is a serious criminal offense. The seriousness and the penalties depend on several factors, depending on the details of the case. Understanding its various degrees is crucial for potential defendants, family members, and victims. As a top criminal defense firm in Missouri, we are well-versed in the complexities of these laws. 

Missouri defines statutory rape as sexual intercourse with a person who is under the age of 17. The difference between first and second-degree statutory rape is the age of the victim and the age difference between the victim and the perpetrator.

What’s the Difference Between First and Second Degree Statutory Rape?

First-degree statutory rape occurs when the victim is under 14 years old. This is an unclassified felony for which the range of punishment is five years to life in prison. If the victim is under 12 years old, the minimum sentence is increased to 10 years in prison. 

Second-degree statutory rape occurs when the victim is between the ages of 14 and 17, and the perpetrator is twenty-one or older. This crime is considered a Class D felony and is punishable by a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.

It’s important to note that consent is not a defense in cases of statutory rape.

If you or someone you know is facing a statutory rape charge, it’s crucial to seek the guidance of skilled criminal defense attorneys like Kirsch and Kirsch. They can help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights.

Difference Between Missouri and Other States 

In contrast to Missouri’s two-degree system, some states have additional degrees of statutory rape to further categorize the severity of the crime based on the circumstances. 

For example, Delaware has a statutory rape in the fourth degree. This additional degree allows for a more nuanced approach to addressing cases that may not fit neatly into the existing definitions. However, it is essential to recognize that while these extra degrees may provide a more detailed categorization of statutory rape, they ultimately still serve the same purpose: To protect minors from sexual exploitation. 

The introduction of multiple degrees is an attempt to account for varying situations and ensure that any punishment fits the crime. The fact that one state calls it “fourth degree” while Missouri calls it “second degree” does not mean Missouri takes the crime less seriously.  The core objective remains the same – to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and safeguard the well-being of minors.

Not to be Confused With Similar Charges Like Child Molestation or Statutory Sodomy

Missouri has a similar but separate law addressing child molestation in the fourth degree under statute 566.071. This law targets situations where a person subjects a child under 17 to sexual contact.

Although it may seem comparable to statutory rape, child molestation focuses on acts involving sexual contact rather than sexual intercourse. It is essential to be aware of the distinctions between these two offenses, as they are charged differently and carry separate penalties. 

While both laws aim to protect minors from sexual exploitation, it’s crucial to understand the nuances between them to navigate the legal system accurately. Confusing the two could lead to incorrect charges or misunderstandings of the specific criminal conduct involved, making it vital for individuals and legal professionals to be well-informed, as we are, about the different nature of each crime.

In addition, statutory rape refers to having or attempting to have sexual intercourse with a minor under a certain age. Statutory sodomy refers to any “deviant” sexual behavior (other than intercourse) with a minor under a certain age. 

If you’ve been charged with any of these crimes in Missouri, it’s in your best interest to consult with a proven criminal defense lawyer in Jefferson City, Missouri

Potential Defenses for Statutory Rape

Statutory rape is indeed a severe offense, but there are potential defenses that a skilled criminal defense lawyer can employ to protect their client’s rights and ensure a fair trial. While each case is unique, and the defenses depend on the specific circumstances involved, some common defenses utilized include:

1. Mistake of Age: A possible defense is the “mistake of age” argument, where the accused genuinely believed the victim was of legal age due to appearance or behavior. This defense acknowledges that the accused didn’t knowingly or intentionally engage in sexual intercourse with a minor. However, it is essential to note that not all states accept this defense, and its success depends on the case’s specific details.

3. False Accusations: Unfortunately, there are instances where individuals may be falsely accused of statutory rape. A skilled defense lawyer will work to gather evidence and testify to the character of the accused, potentially demonstrating that the allegations are baseless. This may involve presenting witnesses, alibis, or other exculpatory evidence that supports their client’s claim of innocence.

Understanding the degrees of statutory rape is essential for anyone facing these charges or those seeking to protect themselves and their loved ones from potential legal consequences. The penalties for this offense can be severe, and the distinction between degrees of statutory rape is crucial. If you or someone you know is facing charges of statutory rape, it is critical to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help navigate the complexities of the law and build a strong defense.