Tennessee Statutory Rape Laws and Punishments

Tennessee Statutory Rape Laws and Punishments

The Statutory Rape Law in Tennessee

We have all heard about the “age of consent.” That is the age at which a person is considered to be able to consent to sexual relations. The offense of statutory rape is essentially when sex would otherwise be considered “consensual” except for the fact that the victim is deemed unable to consent because of age.

The historic purpose of the statutory rape statutes was to keep older men from preying on young girls.

Under Tennessee law, there are four types of “traditional” rape: sexual penetration (1) accomplished by force, (2) without consent, (3) where the victim is mentally or physically incapacitated, (4) accomplished by fraud.

The statutory rape law considers sex to be non-consensual solely by virtue of the ages of the people involved.

The Differences between Mitigated, Standard, and Aggravated Statutory Rape in Tennessee:

Mitigated Statutory Rape:

  • the victim is 15-17 years old, and the defendant is 4 years older than the victim.

Standard Statutory Rape:

  • the victim is 13-14 years old, and the defendant is 5-10 years older than the victim, or
  • the victim is 15-17 years old, and the defendants is 6-10 years older than the victim.

Aggravated Statutory Rape:

  • the victim is 13-17 years old, and the defendant is more than 10 years older than the victim.

As you can see, it is not statutory rape if the people are less than four years apart in age. If they are, the level of the offense depends on the victim’s age, and how much older the other person is.

Punishments for Statutory Rape: Felony Type and Sex Offender Registry

The punishment for statutory rape depends on the level of offense:

Mitigated Statutory Rape:

  • Class E Felony
  • No Sex Offender Registry

Standard Statutory Rape:

  • Class E Felony
  • Sex Offender Registry if ordered by the court, or if the person has prior statutory rape convictions

Aggravated Statutory Rape:

  • Class D Felony
  • Mandatory Sex Offender Registry

Do you have to know the victim was underage?

“Mistake of Fact” is usually a valid argument in most criminal defense cases. For example, if you pick up a coat from a rack thinking it is yours, but it is actually that of a neighbor, you may be exonerated because you made a mistake of fact given that the coats were identical.

This does not apply to statutory rape since legislature has done away with the “mistake of fact” defense. It does technically not matter if the defendant truly believed the victim was 18, even if the victim told the person he or she was an adult.

However, the State must always prove this offense was committed “knowingly” and thus, the defendant might argue that the girl said she was nineteen and therefore he did not “know” that she was only seventeen.

Obviously this has to be reasonable, but it may serve as a basis for a legitimate defense.

Can I be convicted on only the word of the accuser?

Under Tennessee law, the person can be convicted on just about any criminal offense based only on the word of the accuser. There’s no requirement that the government corroborate the victim’s testimony. As a practical matter the State tries to have more evidence, but it is not required.

Speaking of evidence, most of these statutory rape cases are based on not only the testimony of the young person, but also on the social media and texts created by the accused person. This type of forensic computer evidence is almost always present in these kinds of cases and careful attention should be given to this evidence, as well.

Lastly, be aware of statutory rape “scams” where people call and ask for money not to report statutory rape. Ignore those calls. No law enforcement agency will offer to dismiss the case in exchange for payment.

Statutory rape is a serious sex crime allegation. Legal representation is necessary to address the allegations.

If you have been charged with statutory rape or a sex crime, contact the expert criminal defense team at the Nashville law firm of Raybin & Weissman for a confidential consultation today.

ABOUT David Raybin
David Raybin

David Raybin is a partner at Raybin & Weissman and he heads up the criminal defense section of the firm. With more than 35 years of experience, David has been named the Best Criminal Lawyer in Nashville by Best Lawyers in America, and listed among the Best Criminal Lawyers in the state by Tennessee Business magazine.

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