Under Georgia Law, statutory rape is defined as sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 years.
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Unlike rape in Georgia, neither force nor lack of consent is required. Furthermore, a person may be convicted of statutory rape even though he or she had an actual and reasonable belief that the victim was above the age of 16 years because knowledge of the victim’s age is not required by the statute.
Under Georgia law, it has long been held that knowledge of the victim’s age is not a defense to statutory rape. This longstanding rule of law has faced many challenges in recent years in light of the ever-increasing pattern of young teens meeting older men online and lying about their age. Technically, even if someone relies on the teen’s misrepresentation and believes that she is at least 16 years old, he can still be convicted of statutory rape under our current law.
Many other jurisdictions allow for defendants in these situations to raise what is known as a mistake of fact defense. If the defendant can show that he had good reason to believe that the girl was at least 16 years of age, he can claim that this mistake as to this essential fact provides him with an affirmative defense to the charges.
While such a defense is not yet permitted in Georgia, there have been moments where our appellate courts have hinted that it may be moving in this direction. In Castaneira v. State, the Court noted that perhaps a defendant could raise a mistake of fact defense in a case “where an adolescent led the defendant to believe that she was an adult.”
This departs from prior Georgia appellate cases where courts have consistently held that a mistake of fact is not a defense in child sex offense cases. This decision may lay the groundwork for a mistake of fact defense in future cases where a child lies about their age, and the defendant reasonably relies on the misrepresentation.
While the courts in Georgia still do not recognize this as a viable defense, we have been quite successful in convincing prosecutors to dismiss cases against our clients when they relied on a younger girl’s misrepresentation of her age (Click here for an example).
Georgia does provide for some mitigating circumstances in its statutory rape law based on both parties being young and close in age. This is known as a Romeo and Juliet provision. In many states, these Romeo and Juliet laws will prevent statutory rape prosecutions in many circumstances. However, in Georgia, the law merely allows for reduced charges.
If the younger party is at least 14, but less than 16, and the defendant is 18 or younger, and no more than four years older than the other party, then the offense will be a misdemeanor. For example, if the defendant was 18 and he had sex with a 14-year-old, he would be charged with only a misdemeanor and not the felony offense of statutory rape. This Romeo and Juliet provision also applies with child molestation offenses.
In statutory rape cases, we employ the same investigation strategies and pretrial motion practice as we would in any child molestation case. To learn more, please visit our pages on Case Preparation and Child Molestation Cases.
We invite you to read Our Results page to learn more about how we’ve successfully defended clients facing statutory rape charges in Georgia.