Sexual offenses are treated especially harshly by law enforcement and prosecutors. These kinds of crimes also tend to draw the most public outrage. There are many laws in New Jersey that criminalize sex and sexual contact with minors. Some of these laws target very serious and violent sex acts, like aggravated sexual assault or rape. Other laws target more general acts of a sexual nature that are less violent or forceful but still illegal. These laws can frequently cause confusion for very young people who are technically adults. People who are 18 or 19 years of age might wonder if they can get into trouble for dating or kissing someone who is only a few years younger than them. Keep reading to find out if kissing a minor can lead to jail time from our Atlantic City sex crimes defense lawyers. The legal team at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych is here to help.
What is the Age of Consent in New Jersey?
The age of consent in New Jersey is 16 years. This means a 16-year-old person may give legal and valid consent to certain sexual activities with an adult. Most laws regarding sex crimes and sexual offenses tend to apply to victims who are 15 years old or younger. However, it is possible that kissing a minor below the age of consent could lead to criminal charges.
Sexual penetration with a person who is of the age of consent may also be a criminal offense depending on your relationship with them. People who may be criminally charged even if the minor is of the age of consent are blood relatives, people with disciplinary power like a teacher or an employer, and people who are legal guardians or stand in a loco parentis relationship with the minor. Sexual penetration with a victim who is at least 13 but no older than 16 can also be criminally charged if you are at least 4 years older than the victim.
While sexual contact with a minor, even kissing, could lead to criminal charges, there are laws in place which serve to shield minor defendants from legal consequences. For example, when a minor victim is only 15 years of age, but the defendant is only 17, there is no crime. Even though the victim is technically under the age of consent, the defendant cannot be charged due to Romeo and Juliet laws. These laws usually require that the defendant is at least 4 years older than the victim. However, different statutes regarding different offenses may impose different age ranges.
Sexual Assault in New Jersey
Sexual assault does not just apply to crimes of sexual violence. It can also encompass less forceful acts that might even be consensual. According to § 2C:14-2(b), an adult can be charged with sexual assault for having “sexual contact” with a victim who is under the age of 13 and the defendant is at least four years older than them. Many people might think of kissing as non-sexual or downright mundane and boring. People often kiss other people when they say hello or goodbye. Kissing is often a non-sexual form of physical affection. However, a prosecutor might feel differently. If your kiss is with a minor, who was less than 13 years of age at the time, was meant to be romantic and sexual, you could be charged with sexual assault, which is a crime of the second degree. However, the statute also requires an act of sexual penetration, not just kissing. So, unless there was penetration, these charges should not stick and your Atlantic City criminal sexual contact defense attorney should argue for the charges to be dropped.
Due to how the law is written, in order to be charged with sexual assault in the above-mentioned situation, the minor victim must be under the age of 13 and the defendant must be at least 17 years old. This eliminates any case in which the minor victim is 13 years old or older.
Criminal Sexual Contact in New Jersey
Criminal sexual contact is a separate offense that involves some sort of sexual contact short of penetration between the defendant and the minor victim under specific circumstances. According to § 2C:14-3(b), a defendant may be guilty of criminal sexual contact if they have sexual contact with the victim while the victim is at least 16 years of age but less than 18 years of age. This offense could also be charged if the victim is at least 13 but less than 16 and the defendant is at least 4 years older. This is similar to the above-mentioned offense of sexual assault, but this offense applies to older victims. If intended as romantic or sexual conduct, kissing could lead to charges of criminal sexual contact, which is a crime of the fourth degree.
As discussed previously, even if the victim is 16 years old or older, certain offenders can still be criminally charged. This includes blood relatives, teachers, employers, and legal guardians.
Can I Go to Jail for a Kissing a Minor in New Jersey?
The answer to this question is yes. It is very possible you could go to jail for kissing a minor in New Jersey. However, this all depends on how young the minor is and how old you are. In cases involving a minor victim and a minor defendant, the defendant could be protected from jail time by Romeo and Juliet laws. However, if you and the minor fall into the necessary age ranges required by law, you can be charged with criminal sexual contact.
Criminal sexual contact is a somewhat lesser sexual offense and is charged as a fourth-degree crime. It carries a penalty of no more than 18 months in prison. How you are charged and the exact penalties you may face will depend on the facts surrounding your case. The Law Offices of John J. Zarych can help you navigate this process.
What if I Kissed a Minor with Consent in New Jersey?
Whether or not the minor consented to be kissed may not matter. If the minor was under the age of 16, they could not legally give consent for any kind of sexual activity. This means it is always a crime to engage in sexual behavior with someone under the age of 16 regardless of consent. However, if Romeo and Juliet laws apply, or if the minor was 16 years of age or older, consent may become a determining factor in your case.
Contact Our New Jersey Sexual Assault Defense Attorney
If you or someone you know has been charged with the sexual assault of a minor, please reach out to the Law Offices of John J. Zarych immediately. Our Atlantic City sexual assault defense attorney can help you fight your charges in court. Call (609) 616-4956 to schedule a free legal consultation with our experienced legal team.