What is statutory rape in SC?
Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Romeo: In jail, because thine mother hath called for the constabulary, and I now await trial for statutory rape…
Wait, that’s not how the story goes…
Or maybe it was before SC incorporated a Romeo and Juliet law (also called a Romeo provision or a close-in-age exemption) into our CSC with a minor law.
Below, we will discuss:
- What statutory rape means in SC,
- SC’s Romeo provision,
- The age of consent in SC, and
- Whether mistake of age is a defense to statutory rape in SC.
What is Statutory Rape in SC?
Statutory rape is when someone has consensual sexual relations with an underaged child.
Obviously, it is a horrible crime when a person sexually abuses a child. Consensual sex with someone who is underage is also a crime, however, because children are deemed incapable of consent.
SC takes statutory rape and child sexual abuse seriously – SC’s CSC with a minor laws cover both forced and consensual sex with underaged children, and CSC with a minor first degree (sexual battery with a child younger than 11 years old) is punishable by no less than 25 years and up to life in prison (or an unenforceable and unconstitutional death penalty in some cases).
CSC with a minor second degree covers sexual battery with a child between the ages of 11 and 14 (or between the ages of 14 and 16 if the defendant was in a position of authority or was older than the alleged victim), and CSC with a minor third degree applies to “lewd acts” committed by someone older than 14 on an alleged victim between the ages of 14 and 16.
So, what happens if Romeo is 17 and his girlfriend, Juliet, is 15 years old? Can Juliet’s mother call the police and have him arrested for statutory rape?
Does SC Have a Romeo Law that Applies to Statutory Rape?
SC has a Romeo and Juliet law, or “close in age exemption,” that protects teenagers who are close in age and who have consensual sex.
SC Code Section 16-3-655(B)(2) (CSC with a minor second degree) says that:
…a person may not be convicted of a violation of the provisions of this item if he is eighteen years of age or less when he engages in consensual sexual conduct with another person who is at least fourteen years of age.
Similarly, SC Code Section 16-3-655(C) (CSC with a minor third degree or “lewd act”) says that:
…a person may not be convicted of a violation of the provisions of this subsection if the person is eighteen years of age or less when the person engages in consensual lewd or lascivious conduct with another person who is at least fourteen years of age.
In either case, if the accused person is 18 years old or younger and the alleged “victim” is 14 years old or older, they are covered under SC’s Romeo provision.
We may not like the idea of teenagers having sex, but we don’t need to criminalize it, put someone in prison, and force them to register as a sex offender because they, as a teenager, had sex with a teenager.
Therefore, Juliet’s mother, no matter how she hates 17-year-old Romeo and his family, cannot have him locked up for having sex with her 15-year-old Juliet (although she might lock up Juliet to keep her from him).
What is the Age of Consent in SC?
So, what is the age of consent in SC?
- The age of consent in SC is 14 if the person they are consenting with is 18 years old or younger (because of SC’s Romeo provision), and
- The age of consent in SC is 16 if the person they are consenting with is older than 18.
If you are older than 18 years old, and you have consensual sex with someone who is younger than 16 years old, that is statutory rape. If you are any age and you have “consensual” sex with someone who is younger than 14, that is statutory rape.
But what if she looks 20 but it turns out she was 14? What if she swore she was 20, and she produced a driver’s license that said she was 20?
Is Mistake of Age a Defense?
Mistake of age is not a defense to statutory rape in SC.
I understand that there are attorney websites in SC that say mistake of age is a defense. You will be sorely disappointed if you retain those attorneys hoping to get a dismissal or acquittal based on a mistake of age defense…
Although the CSC with a minor statute contains a Romeo provision, it does not reference a mistake of age defense. That doesn’t automatically rule out a mistake of age defense, except that the SC Court of Appeals has said (in an unpublished opinion) that “such a defense is not available under Section 16-3-655(B)(1) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2006).”
The defendant was charged with CSC with a minor second degree. His attorney argued at trial that he was entitled to a mistake of age defense, but the trial court disagreed. He was convicted and possibly sent to prison, and then the Court of Appeals refused to overturn his conviction because there is no mistake of age defense to statutory rape in SC.
That guy still has a conviction for CSC with a minor and is still required to register as a sex offender (he has moved out of state, but his address and other information is listed on the registry).
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia and Myrtle Beach, SC
The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.