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Can age misunderstandings be a defense for statutory rape?

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2024 | Criminal Defense

When two people start dating, they generally have a clear understanding of the basic details, such as each other’s ages. Yet, situations where an adult’s romantic partner is actually underage are not unheard of. When this happens, can not knowing be a defense against statutory rape charges?

What is statutory rape in Tennessee?

Some people do appear or act beyond their years. But what happens when one engages in a relationship with a minor who has misrepresented their age? In Tennessee, the age of consent is set at 18.

Even when both are willing participants, the law is firm that minors cannot legally give consent. Engaging in sexual acts with a minor aged 13 to 18 as someone at least four years their senior constitutes statutory rape.

Is not knowing a partner’s age a valid defense?

Tennessee’s mistake of fact statute protects a person from prosecution if they mistakenly commit a criminal act because of an honest mistake or a lack of awareness. However, in an effort to protect minors from sexual exploitation, the court may reject claims of ignorance, including not knowing a person’s age, as a defense for statutory rape.

This may complicate situations where the minor withheld their true age and caused the accused to reasonably believe they were of age.

The consequences of a statutory rape conviction are severe, potentially leading to jail time, fines and a damaged reputation. Moreover, it may necessitate a sex offender registration, potentially affecting employment and housing opportunities.

Defending against statutory rape charges is difficult without proper guidance. If you are facing a similar situation, consulting with a criminal defense attorney in Tennessee may help you understand your legal options.

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