But she told me she was 18. Is being lied to a defense to Statutory Rape?

The law of Statutory rape in Tennessee is found at Tennessee Code Annotated Title 39 Chapter 13, Part 506 (T.C.A. 39-13-506), and Title 39 Chapter 13, Part 532 (T.C.A. 39-13-532). Statutory rape is the sexual penetration of a minor who is over the age of 12 but under the age of 18 and the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. If statutory rape is committed by a person acting as an authority figure over the victim the penalties increase greatly.

By law a minor cannot legally consent. Therefore even if the minor did actually consent and even if he or she was the aggressor and initiated the sexual relationship with the adult consent is not a defense to the crime of statutory rape. Typically the only viable defense available in statutory rape is the defense that there was no sexual penetration.

However, what happens when the minor looked, acted, and claimed to be older than 18 years of age? I have heard of some lawyers advising that an adults mistaken belief that a minor was in fact of age is not a defense and that statutory rape is therefore  a strict liability crime.

However in Tennessee the law requires that the State prove at a minimum that the Defendant acted recklessly in regard to the victims age. See State v. Jones, 889 S.W.2d 225 (Tenn. Crim. App., 1994), State v. Clark, 452 S.W.3d 268 (Tenn., 2014).

Also, a recent case from the United States Supreme Court seems to support the argument that before anyone can be convicted of any crime that the government must prove some guilty knowledge on behalf of the accused.  See, Elonis v. United States 135 SCT 2001 (2015).

Therefore, in any state where statutory rape is being applied as a strict liability crime I believe the Elonis decision can be used to argue that any conviction for statutory rape based upon strict liability would be unconstitutional.

In summary, if a minor looked, acted, and stated that she was 18 and there were no facts to suggest to the Defendant that the victim was under age I believe that a Defendant’s good faith mistaken belief that the victim was an adult would be a defense to the crime of statutory rape.

However, if the victim was living at home, did not have a car, and pushed the defendant out the back door whenever mom and dad showed up, that would be a pretty good clue that the victim was a minor and the defendant’s actions could be considered reckless and he could be convicted of statutory rape even if the victim did lie about her age. In other words, even if the victim lies about her age the jury will be allowed to look at other facts to determine if the Defendant should have known that the victim was a minor and is therefore guilty of statutory rape. Horst Law,  

Brent Horst, Board Certified Criminal Trial Specialist by the NBTA Licensed in Tennessee and Florida.

Date of Article 25 Jan 2017.

This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advise. The author does not warrant that the information is current after the date that the article is first published.  Always consult a qualified lawyer to discuss the particular facts of your case.