What is the Statutory Rape Law in New Jersey?

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 our experienced Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by dialing (609) 616-4956.

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:

Aggravated Sexual Assault

Aggravated Sexual Assault, as defined by N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-2(a), is a serious sex crime in New Jersey. It occurs when an individual commits sexual penetration with another person under circumstances involving force or the threat of force, severe injury, or the use of a weapon. This offense is considered a first-degree crime in New Jersey and carries severe penalties.

Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault, outlined in N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-2(c), is another sex crime that defendants in New Jersey may be charged with. It involves sexual penetration without the victim’s consent or when the victim is unable to give consent because of a mental or physical condition. Depending on the circumstances, this offense can be classified as either a second-degree or third-degree crime. Sexual contact with a minor under 13 is also often sexual assault under § 2C:14-2(b).

Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact

Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact is established by N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-3(a). This offense occurs when an individual sexually touches another person under circumstances involving force or serious injury. This offense is classified as a third-degree crime in New Jersey.

Criminal Sexual Contact

Criminal Sexual Contact, set forth by N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-3(b), involves unwanted sexual touching without a victim’s consent. This offense is considered a fourth-degree crime in New Jersey.


Lewdness is a criminal offense governed by N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-4. It pertains to engaging in offensive sexual conduct that is likely to be observed by others who might be affronted or alarmed. It is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey.

Endangering the Welfare of Children

Lastly, Endangering the Welfare of Children, as described in N.J.S.A. § 2C:24-4, encompasses various actions that may harm or exploit children, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, or neglect. Depending on the specifics of the offense, it can be classified as a second-degree, third-degree, or fourth-degree crime, carrying different penalties.

Specific 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.

Understanding Mandatory Sex Offender Registration in Statutory Rape Cases in New Jersey

In New Jersey, mandatory sex offender registration is a legal obligation for individuals who have been convicted of certain sex crimes, including those that would be considered “statutory rape.” This is a significant consequence that may result from a conviction. Fortunately, our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers can help defendants understand the specifics of mandatory sex offender registration.

Lifetime Registration

In many statutory rape cases, the registration requirement is for life, meaning that the individual must keep their information updated on the state’s sex offender registry for the rest of their life. This includes providing personal details like addresses and employment information to law enforcement agencies.

Public Disclosure

Information about registered sex offenders in New Jersey is made available to the public through the state’s sex offender registry website. This includes the offender’s name, photograph, address, and details about their conviction. This public disclosure can have significant personal and professional consequences for the individual, potentially affecting their reputation and relationships.

Tier Classification

Sex offenders in New Jersey are classified into different tiers based on the severity of their offense and the likelihood of reoffending. Tier classification determines the level of community notification and registration requirements. Tier 1 offenders have the lowest level of public disclosure, while Tier 3 offenders face the most extensive reporting and notification requirements, which may include notifications to schools and communities.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Failing to comply with mandatory sex offender registration requirements can lead to additional criminal charges and penalties. Non-compliance may result in imprisonment and other legal consequences, potentially adding to the difficulties that come with a statutory rape conviction.

Impact on Life

Mandatory sex offender registration can have a lasting impact on an individual’s life. Many communities have restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live and work. This impact can be challenging for those convicted of statutory rape because the stigma that attaches to such a charge is especially severe.

Possible Defenses to Statutory Rape Charges in New Jersey

Each statutory rape case is unique, and the strength of certain defenses depends on the specific facts and circumstances of defendants’ cases. Fortunately, if you were accused of a sex crime, then our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers can help determine if any of the following defenses may be available to you:

Consent and Age Verification

One potential defense to statutory rape charges in New Jersey is to argue that the accused reasonably believed that the minor involved was of the age of consent, which is 16 years old. If the defendant can provide evidence that they took reasonable steps to verify the minor’s age, such as checking identification or relying on the minor’s misrepresentation of their age, it may be possible to argue that they had a genuine belief in the minor’s age and did not knowingly engage in illegal sexual activity.

Mistaken Identity

In some cases, mistaken identity can be a valid defense. If the defendant can demonstrate that they were not the person involved in the sexual activity or that they were falsely accused, it can cast doubt on their culpability. This defense relies on presenting evidence that challenges the accuracy of the identification of the accused as the perpetrator.

Consent Controversy

In some cases, the defense may argue that there was genuine consent from the other party, and that the prosecution failed to prove otherwise. This defense would require careful examination of the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense to show that the alleged victim willingly participated in the sexual activity at issue.

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.

Our Awards & Recognitions

atlantic city criminal defense lawyer
atlantic city criminal defense lawyers
best atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyers
atlantic city criminal defense lawyer
atlantic city criminal defense lawyers
best atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyers

Recent Articles

Free and confidential initial consultations are available 24/7.
Call (609) 445-3533.

Get a Free Case Review

Atlantic County Office
1555 Zion Road Suite 201
Northfield, NJ 08225
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 641-2266
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Cape May Office
106 North Main Street
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 465-6500
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Wildwood Office
3309 New Jersey Avenue
Wildwood, NJ 08260
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 522-3778
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Atlantic City Office
1125 Atlantic Ave Suite 500
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 344-9958
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Atlantic City criminal lawyer