Summarizing the Laws on Statutory Rape in Indiana

May 11, 2022

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

Summarizing the Laws on Statutory Rape in Indiana

Statutory rape is a charge that carries life-altering consequences if you are found guilty. Mere allegations of statutory rape in Indiana can wreak havoc in the life and reputation of the accused. While charges may seem straightforward, exceptions to the rules can make it hard to understand. Protecting your rights and freedom against statutory rape allegations requires a tailored defense strategy started as early in the case as possible.

A statutory rape conviction carries significant penalties such as prison time, fines, and mandatory registration with the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry. An experienced Indiana criminal defense lawyer from Keffer Hirschauer LLP can help with your defense against an Indiana statutory rape charge, from gathering relevant evidence in your case and identifying the most effective defense strategy to negotiating or litigating a positive outcome in your case.

How the Law Defines Statutory Rape in Indiana

Statutory rape laws are intended to protect minors and the mentally disabled from sexual relationships to which they are unable to consent according to the law. As such, the Indiana Code defines statutory rape as sexual intercourse by an adult with another person who is incapable of consenting to sex. There are two categories of people determined to be unable to give consent: minors and the mentally disabled. A person is determined to have a mental disability if the individual is:

  • Unable to understand the nature and consequences of a sexual act
  • Unaware a sexual act is occurring

Absent disability, the age of consent in Indiana for statutory rape is 16 years old. A minor less than 16 years old is unable to give consent to sexual relations as a matter of law.

Statutory rape in Indiana is a strict liability offense. This means that the accused is guilty even if the sexual relations partner gave consent but is a minor or mentally disabled under the Indiana law regardless of the intent of the accused. The penalties vary depending on the facts involved.

If you are charged with the rape of a minor or mentally disabled individual, it is critical that you contact an Indiana criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The chances of a favorable outcome increase when an experienced defense attorney can assess your case and develop a defense strategy early.

Why Age Matters for Statutory Rape in Indiana

Statutory rape charges may be more or less severe depending on the age of the minor and the accused. The level of the offense charged and the resulting penalty greatly depend on how much older the accused is than the minor.

Sexual relations violate the Indiana statutory rape law when a person who is at least 18 years old engages in sexual intercourse or other sexual conduct with a child who is less than 16 years old. At the lowest level, a person who violates this statute commits a Level 5 felony and faces between one to six years in jail with a fine of up to $10,000 if convicted. However, a person older than 21 years old who commits the same crime can be charged with a Level 4 felony. If convicted, the accused faces between two and 12 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

If the rape involves using or threatening deadly force, the accused was armed with a deadly weapon, or the minor was given drugs without their knowledge, the defendant could be charged with a Level 1 felony, which carries a sentence of 20 and 40 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

While not rising to the level of statutory rape, a person at least 18 years old who fondles or touches a child with the intent to arouse or satisfy the desires of either party commits a Level 6 felony. Level 6 is the lowest felony level in Indiana, and it carries a penalty of between six months and two and a half years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. However, the court has the option to implement alternative misdemeanor sentencing under Indiana Code § 35-50-2-7 and, instead, enter the judgment of conviction for a Class A misdemeanor, exposing the defendant to a maximum of one year in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000. On the other hand, the offense can be elevated to a Level 5 felony if it is committed by a person who is at least 21 years old.

A statutory rape conviction and its consequences can turn your life upside down. Should you be accused of statutory rape in Indiana, your best option is to hire an experienced Indiana criminal defense lawyer.

Defenses for Statutory Rape in Indiana

As strict liability offenses, Indiana statutory rape laws offer fewer defenses than other types of offenses. Protecting your future requires the development of careful, case-specific defense strategies, such as those summarized here.

False Accusations

Research shows that between two and ten percent of rape allegations are false. And a false accusation of statutory rape by a minor can create lifelong problems. Winning in court—or avoiding court altogether—requires significant experience and skill when the issue is based on “he said, she said,” especially when the conviction does not require proof of force.

Successfully defending against a false allegation of statutory rape requires a painstakingly thorough investigation, careful defense strategies, and legal talent capable of balancing efforts to discredit the accuser and the accuser’s evidence without alienating the court or jury.

Mistake of the Child’s Age

The statutory rape laws in many states do not allow the argument that the accused was not aware or did not believe that the alleged victim was not of age to consent. However, Indiana statutory rape law allows this defense if the defendant the defendant can show a reasonably held and mistaken belief that the child was of legal age to consent and that the alleged acts would not be illegal if the child were of age.

If the child said they were 17 years old, the accused may be able to avoid a conviction if there is supporting evidence for believing that the child was of age to give legal consent. For example, evidence to establish this defense could include demonstrating that the minor is friendly with people of legal age to consent and that other people had told the accused that the minor was age 17.

Romeo and Juliet Law

The Indiana Romeo and Juliet law is a defense in Indiana statutory rape cases when both partners are relatively close in age. This defense can be used when:

  • The defendant is no more than four years older than the minor
  • There was an ongoing dating or personal relationship at the time
  • The crime did not involve any of the following:
    • The accused was at least 21 years old
    • The accused used or threatened deadly force
    • The accused committed the offense while armed with a deadly weapon
    • The offense caused serious bodily injury to the victim
    • The accused gave the minor, without the minor’s knowledge, a drug or controlled substance to facilitate the offense
    • The accused had a position of authority or substantial power over the victim

The Indiana Romeo and Juliet law considers that young people may have relationships before reaching the age of consent in Indiana or within a reasonable time after and have no intent to engage in forced sexual relations. However, for this defense to succeed, the defendant must prove each element described above.

Marriage

If the child is or has been married, the accused may use that fact as a defense to rape. A minor aged 16 or 17 can be married in Indiana if they are marrying someone within four years of their age. However, this defense does not apply if the accused used deadly weapons or force to engage in the sexual misconduct.

Consequences of an Indiana Statutory Rape Conviction

A person guilty of statutory rape in Indiana faces significant consequences in addition to incarceration and fines. Indiana requires people who commit statutory rape and child molestation to register as sex offenders. Inclusion on the sex offender registry creates complications and impairs opportunities across many aspects of life. Working with an Indiana criminal defense lawyer can be critical to avoiding these consequences.

Once registered as a sex offender, registered names stay on the list for at least ten years. In some circumstances, a registrant may be classified as a sexually violent predator. Such offenders must remain on the list for their entire lives. Everyone registered as a sex offender must abide by regulations like these:

  • Prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of a school
  • Prohibited from living within a mile of the minors they assaulted
  • Prohibited from visiting certain websites
  • Subject to random computer searches
  • Prohibited from messaging minors on social media
  • Prohibited from working with children
  • Prohibited from drinking alcohol
  • Prohibited from engaging in consensual sexual relationships with individuals who have minor children

The court may decide to release a defendant from the registration requirement if the crime is a Level 5 felony and the defendant is within four years of the minor’s age.

The sex offender list is public and can lead to difficulty finding normalcy in your life. A skilled Indiana criminal defense lawyer may be able help you avoid a conviction of statutory rape in Indiana and mandatory sex offender registration.

What To Expect After an Arrest for Statutory Rape in Indiana

After an arrest, the accused generally has an initial hearing within 48 hours of the arrest. At the hearing, the judge informs the accused of the charge or charges and gives advisements of the defendant’s rights. The defendant may request to be released from jail pending further proceedings, either by bonding out or on the accused’s own recognizance. The accused also generally enters a plea at this initial hearing.

After the initial hearing, the prosecution and the defense conduct and exchange discovery, formal methods of investigation into the facts involved. Either or both sides may also file pretrial motions. In some cases, the prosecution and defense may work to negotiate a plea deal. If that fails and the case is not otherwise resolved, the matter will proceed to trial.

A statutory rape charge may be tried to a judge or a jury. Under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, the defendant is not required to testify or make any statements. Depending on the minor’s age, the child can be allowed to testify in the judge’s chamber and may not be required to testify in front of the defendant or anyone else. If the defendant is found guilty, sentencing often takes place in a separate, later proceeding.

Where to Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Statutory Rape in Indiana

Conviction for statutory rape carries serious social and penal consequences that can affect every part of your life. If you face a charge of statutory rape in Indiana, an experienced Indiana criminal defense lawyer at Keffer Hirschauer LLP can help. With years of experience in criminal defense, we understand the process, challenges, and impact on your future. For a free consultation to learn more about how we can help, contact us today by calling at (317) 857-0160 or complete our online contact form.

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