Every parent knows the worry that comes when teenage children fall in love. Intense emotions, raging hormones and the pressures of a highly promiscuous teen culture can push almost any child into early sexual involvement. The emotional, psychological and social consequences of “too much/too soon” can be significant and long-term, the experts say. But for young people in Arizona, the legal consequences of forbidden sexual activity can be completely life-shattering. Sadly, all it takes to turn a teenage romance into a nightmare that never ends is a single complaint to the police from an angry parent or a jilted boyfriend or girlfriend. That’s why every parent of every Arizona teen must be certain they understand these rather complicated rules and ensure that their children understand and abide by them completely.
Age of sexual consent is the age at which a state says a person can agree to engage in sexual activity. Twenty-five states set the age of consent at 16, eight states set it at 17, and Arizona is one of seven states that set the age of consent at 18. This means that any person 17 years old or younger in our state, unless legally married, is considered incapable of agreeing to sexual behavior and therefore any sexual behavior they are engaged in (heterosexual or homosexual) is illegal. The relevant criminal charge in our state is felony Sexual Misconduct with a Minor, commonly known in other states as statutory rape. Penalties for juvenile sex offenders include incarceration and mandatory enrollment as a sex offender at least until the age of 25. Penalties for anyone 18 or 19 years old and not in high school are much stiffer, requiring prison time and mandatory sex offender registry for life.
There are two defenses to this charge in Arizona which have direct bearing on teenage romances. The first, described in A.R. S. §13-1407, is the Age Difference Defense or the Romeo and Juliet rule. This is a bit complicated so we’ve posted a chart on the Teen Law School website for closer study. http://teenlawschool.com/Laws_in_Your_State.php
The rule states that if the age difference between the mutually consenting, minor partners is 24 months or less, and no one is 14 years or younger, and no one is 19 years old and not in high school, the sexual conduct is unlikely to warrant a charge by the county attorney. However, if the age difference is greater than 24 months, by even one day, charges can be brought, potentially against both parties. If a 19 year old who is not in high school is involved with a minor of any age, charges can be filed against the older party. This means that a relationship considered “safe” one day, can become illegal the next day if a birthday or graduation from high school occurs. Finally, and this is important, the state believes that under no circumstances can a child 14 or under consent to sexual activity. Therefore, if anyone of any age, including another 14 year old, engages in sexual activity with someone 14 or younger, charges can be filed. Certainly, anytime non- consensual sexual activity occurs, additional and extremely serious felony sex assault charges will be filed against the offending party.
The second defense is the Mistaken Identity rule. Let’s say an 18 boy meets a precocious girl who appears to be a “safe” 17 years of age. She claims she is 17, says she’s in the 11th grade in another school and looks every bit the part. They engage in sexual behavior which according to A.R.S. § 13-1405 includes oral activity. The girl tells her friend who tells her mother who calls the police because she knows the girl to be 15, not 17. That boy could well be charged because even though he was mistaken about her age, he should have made reasonable attempts to determine her age. Did he ask to see a driver’s license? Did he question her family or friends about her age? This cautionary tale is real – it happened to the child of friend of mine. Now a convicted felon in his early 20’s, the young man is still on the national sex offender registry, is unable to find a desirable job, can’t be in the presence of children (even family members), can’t be in proximity to a school or day care facility, can’t find a girl to date, and has lost every hope he had of ever living a normal family life.
The purpose of our state’s tough sex offense statues is to protect our children from sexual predators, and we can all support that intent. We can be grateful also that these defenses were created by our legislators to spare young people in consensual, close-in-age relationships from being treated as predators under the law. Please share these laws and defenses with your children as soon as possible; pull out a multi-year calendar and make certain your children understand the 24 month age difference that should always be respected in their choice of a romantic partner. Make certain your children over 19 and not in high school realize that the only legal choices for them are young women or men age 18 and older. Safe sex saves lives as well as future hopes and dreams.
Charges of sexual misconduct are extremely serious for young people and adults, and require expert representation by skilled attorneys with specialties in the field. At Davis/Miles, we have assembled a multi-talented attorney group ready to protect your rights aggressively against any complaint or action that might involve a member of your family. Your family’s protection is always our first concern.
Your Family and the Law is written by Claudia Gilburd, founder of Teen Law School, Inc. and is published as a public service to the clients and friends of Davis/Miles Law Firm. Teen Law School presents informative seminars for teens and parents on the local, state and federal laws that pertain to typical teenage behavior. For more information or to request a seminar in your area, please visit www.teenlawschool.com or call 1-877-4TEENLAW.