The age of consent in Missouri is a topic that can raise more questions than answers. Age-of-consent laws are in place to protect minors from sexual abuse and exploitation and to ensure that individuals engaging in sexual activity do so in a safe, consensual manner.
In Missouri, the age of consent is 17 years old, meaning that individuals who are 16 or younger are not legally able to consent to sexual activity. Understanding these laws can help individuals make informed decisions about their sexual relationships.
In this blog, our defense attorneys will explore Missouri’s age of consent in depth, discussing what it is, the consequences of violating these laws, and how to get legal help.
What is the Age of Consent in Missouri?
In Missouri, the legal age of consent is 17 years old. This means that individuals who are 17 years of age or older are considered legally capable of providing their informed consent to engage in sexual activities.
Understanding the age of consent is crucial, as it serves as a legal benchmark to determine when an individual can make decisions about their own sexual relationships.
Potential Consequences of Violating the Age of Consent
Violating age-of-consent laws can result in being charged with a sex crime called statutory rape.
Statutory rape can be charged in the first or second degree. To secure a conviction for statutory rape in the second degree (RSMo 566.034), a Class D felony, the state has to prove the following elements:
- The victim was less than 17 years old.
- Sexual intercourse occurred.
- The defendant/accused was over the age of 21.
Statutory rape in the second degree is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
On the other hand, to secure a conviction for statutory rape in the first degree (RSMo 566.032), the state has to prove the following elements:
- The victim was less than 14 years of age.
- Sexual intercourse occurred.
Notably, statutory rape in the first degree does not have an age requirement for the defendant. It is charged as felony punishable by a minimum of five years imprisonment up to imprisonment. However, if there are aggravating factors like the victim was younger than 12 or the offense was aggravated, the minimum sentence can be increased.
What About Consensual Relationships?
In Missouri, whether or not either party “consented” to the act is irrelevant because the law holds that a minor cannot legally provide consent to sexual intercourse.
This means that even if both parties involved in the relationship willingly participate, if one person is younger than 17 and the other is older than 21, or one person is younger than 14, the law considers them incapable of giving valid consent.
What if I Believed the Person Was of Age?
Statutory rape in the first degree is considered a strict liability crime. This means that “mistake of age” is not accepted as a defense. Regardless of whether an individual genuinely believed that the other person was of legal age if the victim is less than fourteen years old, it is a felony offense, and the law holds them accountable.
However, for statutory rape in the second degree, the defendant has an affirmative defense if they can prove that they genuinely believed the victim was 17 or older at the time of the sexual activity.
It’s essential to understand that the burden of proof for this affirmative defense rests with the defendant. The defendant must provide evidence to support their claim that they believed the alleged victim was of legal age. The state, in contrast, does not have the burden of proof to demonstrate that the defendant knew the victim’s age.
Is There a Romeo and Juliet Law in Missouri?
No. While some jurisdictions have Romeo and Juliet laws or “close in age exemptions” that provide legal protections for consensual sexual activity between minors, this is not the case in Missouri. Statutory rape in the first degree still applies if the victim is less than fourteen years old, regardless of the defendant’s age.
However, if two 15-year-olds engage consensually in sexual activity, it’s less likely to result in prosecution due to age-appropriate factors. However, significant age differences, like a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old, could lead to prosecution in juvenile court.
Prosecution in such cases depends on the discretion of the prosecutor’s office. They consider factors like age differences, circumstances, and context.
Defending Against Age-of-Consent-Related Charges
Age-of-consent laws can be complex, and their interpretation can vary depending on the circumstances. Having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who understands these laws is essential to navigate your case effectively.
At Rose Legal Services, we understand the nuances of these types of cases. With over 20 years of experience, we have successfully represented thousands of people facing charges, arrests, or investigations for various crimes, including those related to the age of consent.
We will work tirelessly to protect your rights, ensure fair treatment, and explore all possible legal options for your case. Contact us today for a consultation.