The age of consent is the age at which a person may consent to sexual activity. In New Jersey, the age of consent is 16 years. That means it is unlawful for a legal adult (meaning an individual aged 18 or older) to engage in sexual relations with a person who is below the age of 16. This type of scenario is referred to as “statutory rape,” because even though the acts were consensual, minors below age 16 are considered unable to consent legally. That being said, exceptions can arise that may provide a legal defense to statutory rape charges in New Jersey, such as the state’s close-in-age exception (sometimes referred to as “Romeo and Juliet laws”). Keep reading to learn more about statutory rape laws in New Jersey, including penalties for statutory rape and other sex crimes in New Jersey. If you have been charged with sexual assault, or were arrested for a related offense, get legal help from an experienced Atlantic City criminal attorney right away.
What is the “Close-in-Age” Exception in New Jersey?
Some states, such as New Jersey, create exceptions for scenarios involving two minors. In New Jersey, this is referred to as the “close-in-age” exception. The close-in-age exception allows consensual relations between two minors, provided they are similar in age: specifically, within four years of each other. This exception applies to minors as young as 13, allowing consensual relations with an individual up to 17 years of age. The exception does not apply to anyone who is under the age of 13. To provide an example, sexual relations between a 12-year-old and a 16-year-old, though within four years of each other in age, would be illegal.
Types of Sex Crime Charges in NJ
Statutory rape is a colloquial term, not a legal term. For example, there is no criminal offense called “statutory rape” in New Jersey. Depending on the type of actions that he or she allegedly took, the defendant will instead be charged with one of the following crimes:
- J.S.A. § 2C:14-2(a) – Aggravated Sexual Assault
- J.S.A. § 2C:14-2(b) – Sexual Assault
- J.S.A. § 2C:14-3(a) – Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact
- J.S.A. § 2C:14-3(b) – Criminal Sexual Contact
- J.S.A. § 2C:14-4 – Lewdness
- J.S.A. § 2C:24-4 – Endangering the Welfare of Children
Penalties for Sex Offenses in NJ
New Jersey refers to felonies as “indictable crimes” or “crimes,” while misdemeanor offenses are called “disorderly persons offenses” (or, in cases involving the most minor offenses, “petty disorderly persons offenses”). Because they are serious offenses equivalent to felonies, indictable crimes are punishable with longer maximum sentences and higher maximum fines than disorderly persons offenses. A disorderly persons offense or an indictable crime will give you a criminal record, which can follow you from state to state and make it harder to qualify for loans, housing, or job opportunities. Moreover, you may be required to register as a sex offender.
Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree, or second degree felony. The mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years in prison under New Jersey’s sexual assault statute. In addition to prison time, the defendant may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $150,000, which is the maximum criminal fine for a second degree crime in New Jersey.
Aggravated sexual assault is a first degree crime, or first degree felony. Criminal penalties include a prison sentence ranging anywhere from 25 years to life. If the defendant is sentenced to life in prison, he or she must “serve 25 years before being eligible for parole, unless a longer term of parole ineligibility is otherwise provided” by the state. There can also be a fine as great as $200,000 for a first degree crime in New Jersey.
Criminal sexual contact is a fourth degree crime, or fourth degree felony. Criminal penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, along with a prison sentence of up to 18 months.
Aggravated criminal sexual contact is a third degree crime, or third degree felony. Criminal penalties include a fine of up to $15,000 and a prison sentence ranging anywhere from three to five years.
Lewdness is a disorderly persons offense, or misdemeanor, though there are also situations where the charge can be elevated to a crime of the fourth degree. When it is treated as a disorderly persons offense, criminal penalties for lewdness include fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
Endangering the welfare of children – an offense which involves “impair[ing] or debauch[ing] the morals of… [a] child,” as described by the statute – is a crime of the third, second, or first degree, depending on the specific nature of the allegations.
NJ Sex Crimes Defense Attorney John J. Zarych Can Help
If you have been charged with sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, or other sex crimes in New Jersey, talk to an experienced Atlantic City sexual offense attorney right away. For a free legal consultation, contact the Law Offices of John J. Zarych online, or call today at (609) 616-4956.