This is a complicated area of the law, and a short answer may not make sense with some background information. It goes without saying that anyone accused of or charged with statutory rape would be wise to consult with a criminal defense attorney at once.
Let’s review first who qualifies as a minor in North Carolina. For most purposes, a minor is someone who has not yet had an 18th birthday: An 18-year-old can vote, for example, and an 18-year-old male must register with the Selective Service.
However, 21 is the age of majority for drinking and purchasing alcohol. So what about criminal prosecution?
In North Carolina, a 16-year-old can be prosecuted as an adult. With statutory rape, though, the age of the victim is also important, as is the age difference between the victim and the defendant. Please note: Even if the parties say that intercourse was consensual, the law considers one of them to be the victim and the other to be culpable.
Statutory rape, then, is defined as intercourse or a sexual act between someone who is 13, 14 or 15 years old and someone who is either at least six years older than that person or between four and six years older than that person. (The age difference determines whether the charge is for a B1 felony or a C felony.)
A quick calculation, then, shows that the defendant must be at least 17 years old —not a minor as far as the criminal court is concerned.
Someone 16 or younger, however, can be charged with a sex crime, even if the crime is not classified as “statutory rape.”
For example, the crime of first degree sexual offense occurs when a person 12-years-old or older has intercourse with a child 12-years-old or younger, and that child is also at least four years younger than the defendant. Here, then, a defendant may be as young as 12 and as old as 16.
Consent is not an issue with statutory rape. This is one of those situations when the law is the law — someone is “strictly liable” if the facts match the proscribed behaviors. The only defense is marriage, but, remember, very young children cannot marry legally.
Again, this is a complicated area of the law. If you or a loved one is facing charges for these or similar crimes, please consider contacting a criminal defense attorney.
Source: West’s North Carolina General Statutes Annotated, Chapter 14. Criminal Law, Subchapter III. Offenses Against the Person, via Westlaw