LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Patrick E. Stegall | Oct 5, 2012

Memphis Sex Crimes Lawyer Explains Tennessee’s Statutory Rape Laws

Tennessee’s statutory rape law is found in Title 39, Chapter 13, Part 5 of the Tennessee Code Annotated. It is a complex offense that contains numerous elements and criminalizes many different activities, and the penalties can be harsh.

There are actually three types of statutory rape in Tennessee: mitigated statutory rape, statutory rape, and aggravated statutory rape. They all require the act of unlawful sexual penetration where the victim is less than 18 years old and the defendant is at least four years older. “Unlawful sexual penetration" can mean many different types of sexual activity.

The ages of the victim and defendant will determine the classification. Mitigated statutory rape is the unlawful sexual penetration of a victim by the defendant, or of the defendant by the victim, when the victim is at least 15 but less than 18 years of age and the defendant is at least four but not more than five years older than the victim.

Statutory rape is the unlawful sexual penetration of a victim by the defendant or of the defendant by the victim when 1) the victim is at least 13 but less than 15 years of age and the defendant is at least four years but less than ten years older than the victim; or 2) the victim is at least 15 but less than 18 and the defendant is more than five but less than ten years older than the victim.

Aggravated statutory rape is the unlawful sexual penetration of a victim by the defendant, or of the defendant by the victim, when the victim is at least 13 but less than 18 years of age and the defendant is at least 10 years older than the victim.

Mitigated statutory rape and statutory rape are both Class E felonies. An E felony in Tennessee is punishable from 1-6 years. Aggravated statutory rape is a Class D felony, punishable from 2-12 years

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Another type of crime is statutory rape by an authority figure. This is defined as unlawful sexual penetration when the victim is between 13 and 17, the defendant is at least four years older, and the defendant is in a position of trust, or supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim and uses that trust or power to accomplish the sex act. It can also be when the defendant has parental or custodial authority over the victim and uses that authority to accomplish the sex act. Statutory rape by an authority figure is a Class C felony punishable from 3-15 years.

Two of the biggest questions for an individual charged with statutory rape in Tennessee are going to be 1) Will it require going on the sex offender registry list, and 2) Can it be removed from my record? A conviction for aggravated statutory rape does require registry on the sex offender list. Tennessee’s sex offender registry laws are in Title 40, Chapter 39, Part 2 of the Tennessee Code. A conviction for mitigated statutory rape and statutory rape require registration only if the defendant has a prior conviction for statutory rape (this includes any of the three classifications). Thus, if the charge is not aggravated statutory rape, and the defendant has no prior convictions for statutory rape, registry on the sex offender list is not required. Statutory rape by an authority figure is defined as a violent sex offense and requires registration for life.

Statutory rape is a diversion-eligible offense, which means a defendant who is otherwise qualified for diversion may have the chance to remove the charge from their record. All three classifications of statutory rape are eligible, but statutory rape by an authority figure is not.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about statutory rape is that it’s a strict liability crime. It requires no culpable mental state. It is no defense if the defendant believes the victim is of the proper age. All that is needed is to commit the act.

Patrick Stegall is a Memphis sex crimes lawyer. Because of the seriousness of these offenses, it is crucial for an individual charged with a sex crime to seek out an experienced attorney. Mr. Stegall specializes in criminal law, and can assist a sex crime defendant in mounting a defense and securing the best outcome possible. For more information, please visit him online at http://www.stegall-law.com.

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