Statutory Rape and the Age of Consent in NC
In response to a case heard by the NC Court of Appeals, State v. Hicks, 768 S.E.2d 373 (February 17, 2015), the NC Legislature has just overhauled and streamlined the laws related to rape and other criminal sexual offenses. Session Law 2015-181 (An Act To Reorganize, Rename, and Renumber Various Sexual Offenses . . . ) and Session Law 2015-62 (The Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015).
By Force and Without Consent
The legal term rape is defined exclusively by intercourse against a female’s will and by force, which is a felony. The legal definition of rape requires no minimum or maximum age of a victim; it simply means the female victim did not consent to the intercourse. The term rape also applies where the victim is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know that is the case. If a child is born as a result, the male has no parental rights, including custody, visitation or the right to give or withhold consent for the child to be placed for adoption. Nor does he have any inheritance rights should the child die (as may be the case if the mother files a wrongful death case related to the death of a child).
Without Force But Unable to Give Consent
Each state chooses an age when minor may legally consent to intercourse or other sexual acts. While adults may consent to intercourse and sexual acts, a minor in North Carolina cannot give legal consent until the age of 16, unless the parties are married. NC Gen. Stat. 14-27.23 and 14-27.7A. The victim can give legal consent to intercourse only when the victim reaches that age set out in the statute, which is the reason it is called statutory rape.
Females Under the Age of 13
Statutory rape occurs when an adult male (at least 18) has intercourse with a female who is under the age of 13. It is a Class B1 felony. However, there is also a lesser included offense (i.e., a subdivision of that crime), called first-degree statutory rape that applies when the male is at least 12 years old and at least 4 years older than the female. Example: female is 12 and the defendant is 16. Under either law, if a child is born as a result of the intercourse, the male loses all parental rights, including custody, visitation or the right to give and withhold consent for the child to be placed for adoption. Nor does he have any inheritance rights should the child die. NC Gen. Stat. §14-27.23 and 27.24.
Female Age 15 or Younger
The age of the male is also critical to the statutory rape laws, particularly with females 15 or younger. Unless the parties are married, a male who is at least 12 years old commits a Class B1 felony if he engages in intercourse with a female who is 15 or younger. However, this applies only when he is at least 6 years older than the female. Example: female is 14 and the male is 20. NC Gen. Stat. §27.25.
Unless the parties are married, a male who is at least 12 years old commits a class C felony if he engages in intercourse with a female who is 15 or younger. However, this applies only when he is at least 4 years older than the female (but less than 6 years older). The Class C felony punishment applies unless there is a law imposing a greater punishment. If so, the greater punishment applies. Example: female is 15 and the male is 19. NC Gen. Stat. §27.25.
Sex Acts with Minors
There is also a law that addresses statutory rape by committing sex acts, separate from whether or not there is sexual intercourse. It applies to any “person” and does not require either party be male or female. Those laws are different from the statutory rape laws described above, which apply only to female victims. NC Gen. Stat. §27.7A. There are also numerous other NC sex offenses, which are not included in this article.
Marriage and Minors Who Are Pregnant
If a female over age 14 and less than 16 is pregnant (or has given birth to a child) by a male over 14 and less than 16, she may agree to marry the father and obtain a marriage license. If a male over age 14 and less than 16, he may agree to marry the mother and obtain a marriage license. However, in either situation, the marriage cannot take place until a judge issues a court order allowing the minor to marry if the judge determines the underage party is capable of assuming the responsibilities of marriage and the marriage will serve the best interest of the underage party. If the judge denies the request, a new request to marry may be filed after one year has passed. NC Gen. Stat. §51-2.1.
Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of October 2015. www.AmyEdwardsFamilyLaw.com © 2015.