As a firm that specializes in conflict crimes, a large portion of which are sex crimes, we receive calls on a variety of issues. One frequently asked-about topic is something commonly referred to as statutory rape, or sexual intercourse or contact with a willing individual under eighteen. This area seems to have the most myths and misconceptions, which we are going to debunk in this blog post.
A common question in statutory rape situations involves two young individuals, often high school students. One of those students turns eighteen, while the other student is still seventeen or younger, and they have consensual sexual intercourse (as defined by statute), or sexual contact. There are a lot of myths about this situation: that it isn’t illegal if both students are still in high school; if the age difference is under two years; if their parents are okay with their relationship, etc. The list goes on and on, but the truth of the matter is this: sexual intercourse or sexual contact with someone under 18 is illegal and can result in the charging of the party who is over eighteen.
Romeo & Juliet Laws
Some states have what are referred to as “Romeo & Juliet” laws, which reduce or eliminate criminal penalties in cases where the two parties both willingly engage in sexual contact but have not reached the age of consent, or one party has not but the difference in age is relatively small. For example, in some states such a case might still be criminally charged but the “Romeo & Juliet” law may prevent the defendant from being required to register as a sex offender. The nuances of these laws vary state to state. Wisconsin, however, DOES NOT have any form of a “Romeo & Juliet” law.
In Wisconsin, a sexual assault of a child occurs when any individual engages in sexual intercourse or sexual contact with another individual who has not yet reached the age of sixteen, or engages in sexual intercourse with an individual who has not reached the age of eighteen. There are no exceptions to these laws based on consent, relationship status, or whether or not the minor would like charges pressed. The severity of the charge can vary depending on the age of the minor, whether force or the threat of it was used, and whether the defendant caused great bodily harm. For example, someone who has sexual intercourse with a child who is over sixteen at the time of the alleged act could only be charged with a misdemeanor, not a felony. If there was only sexual contact (as opposed to sexual intercourse, again as defined by Wisconsin statute) and the minor was over sixteen, the person could not be charged with a sexual assault. If the minor is under sixteen, this would result in felony charges.
The victim of a sexual assault does not have the ability to decline to press charges, despite what you see in movies and on TV. The State of Wisconsin is the entity who is pressing charges, and can do so even if the victim asks them not to. A person who is charged with any form of sexual assault is almost certainly going to have bond conditions that prohibit any form of contact with the complainant during the entire pendency of the case.
Charging & Sentencing
When a defense attorney talks about a “charging decision” she or he is referring to the process in which a prosecutor reviews the police reports, considers the reported facts of a case, and makes a decision on whether or not to charge an individual and, if so, what charges will be issued. Nicholson & Gansner offers pre-charging services, in which our attorneys will contact the district attorney’s office in an attempt to advocate on your behalf before a charging decision is made. This of course requires knowing that you are being investigated, which is evident if the police approach you for any statement regarding an incident of sexual contact. The safest thing for you to do in this situation is to politely and respectfully decline to answer any questions (invoking your 5th Amendment right to remain silent) and immediately contact a defense attorney. The decision to charge a crime, particular child sexual assaults, depends on a variety of factors, including evidence, victim statements, and circumstances of the offense. In certain situations, a persuasive argument can be made and that can result in the avoiding of charges being filed.
Sentencing is the final portion of a criminal case, whether it is the result of a plea negotiation or a conviction at trial. It is worth noting that sentences tend to be less stringent for those willing to take responsibility for their actions and enter into a plea deal. A sentencing hearing is the defendant’s opportunity to tell their side of the story fully, and invoke facts or circumstances that would not necessarily be admissible during a trial. Sentences can vary to widely depending on the facts of the case, the rehabilitative needs of the defendant, the degree to which a defendant accepts responsibility, and sometimes the amount of treatment and rehabilitation the defendant has already initiated. A vitally important part of the sentencing process is the presentation by the defense attorney of the facts most favorable to the defendant.
While two young people engaging in sex may not seem like the most serious crime, sexual assault charges should always be taken very, very seriously. In addition to a criminal conviction, there are other outcomes that can very seriously effect how an individual is able to live their life. A conviction of sexual assault commonly requires individual to register as a sex offender. Sex offender registration, and being supervised on sex offender probation, usually forbids contact with minors, as well as being around schools, parks, and other places that minors congregate. This means that an eighteen year old could have difficulty residing in their parents home should they have a younger sibling, or seeing any of their friends.
If you or someone you know is currently facing sexual assault charges in Madison, Dane County, or anywhere in Wisconsin, call our offices for a free consultation. Our lawyers have a long history of sexual assault defense and can vigorously defend you and advocate for the best outcome possible.