Most people have read at least one story about a teenager who was prosecuted and convicted of having sex with someone who was younger than the legal age of consent in that particular state. The stories typically go on to tell readers how the teenager had to serve time in jail or prison for what was technically a sex crime (but in reality, not) and also had to comply with sex offender registration requirements. More than anything else, these cases highlight the fact that criminal laws tend to be blunt and imperfect instruments that, no matter how well-intended, are ultimately incapable of addressing all the different possible scenarios that can be presented by individual cases. In light of the many details and complexities surrounding sex offense charges involving minors – and moreover, the debilitating consequences which result from a conviction or even arrest – it is absolutely imperative to retain the services of a skilled and experienced sex crimes defense lawyer.
What is New Jersey’s “Close-in-Age” Exemption for Sexual Offenses Involving Minors?
Each state has an “age of consent,” which is the age at which a person is considered able to legally consent to sexual relations. The age of consent varies slightly from state to state, ranging from 16 to 18. In New Jersey, the age of consent is 16. That means a sexual activity or relationship involving a person below the age of 16 is generally unlawful in New Jersey – even if the person consents. Sexual intercourse with a person below the age of consent is commonly referred to as “statutory rape,” though this exact term is not always used in legal statutes. Sexual activity with a 17-year-old – who, though not beneath the age of consent, is nonetheless a minor (an individual under 18) – can also result in criminal charges, depending on the circumstances.
Like other states, New Jersey is serious about protecting minors and enforcing laws against sex crimes, meaning there can be extremely severe penalties for statutory rape and related offenses. However, there are exceptions and nuances to the law, as our Atlantic City defense attorneys will discuss further in this article. One example of this is the “close-in-age” rule, which, as the name suggests, affords some legal protection to individuals who are similar in age.
To address sexual relations in which all participants are below the age of consent, or which involve an adult offender who is close in age to the minor, state lawmakers have carved out a “close-in-age” exemption that allows individuals – including both minors (individuals under the age of 18) and legal adults (individuals age 18 or older) – to have consensual sex with a minor, provided the age difference is no more than four years.
How are these laws applied in reality? In real terms, this means a 13-year-old can legally consent to have sex with a 17-year-old and that a 14- or 15-year-old can do likewise with someone who is legally an adult (e.g. an 18- or 19-year-old) — again, so long as the age difference is four years or less. The four-year threshold is absolutely critical, as any age difference exceeding four years is no longer protected by New Jersey’s close-in-age exemption.
It is also critical to note that, while close-in-age rules apply to certain minors below the age of consent, the law still has limitations. Minors age 13, 14, or 15 are included in the exemption, but children age 12 and under are not.
What Are the Consequences if You Are Convicted of Sex Crimes?
The close-in-age exemption is just one possible defense to statutory rape or sexual assault charges in New Jersey. However, other defenses may also be pertinent in your case, depending on the circumstances. Given what is at stake, minors and their families should make no mistake: it is critically important for any adult – or teenager – who has been accused of a sex crime involving a minor to speak with a sexual assault defense attorney as soon as possible.
The consequences of a sex crime conviction can be long-reaching and incredibly destructive, including not only prison time, fines, and mandatory sex offender registration, but also a lasting criminal record, which can make it challenging or impossible to pursue certain opportunities – particularly in combination with a record as a registered sex offender. For example, it may be impossible to study abroad or qualify for certain college scholarships if you have a criminal record, particularly if the offense is violent or sexual in nature.
Atlantic City Sexual Assault Defense Attorneys
At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, we are seasoned and effective defense attorneys who possess more than 45 years of experience representing adults and minors in felony and misdemeanor sex crime cases. If you have been charged with a sexual offense in New Jersey, we can provide the aggressive and dedicated legal representation you need. Contact us online right away to set up a free legal consultation, or call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 625-3006 today.