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California Dating Laws: 17 Year Old Dating a 21 Year Old?

In California, the age of consent is 18 years old. This means that an adult (someone 18 or older) engaging in sexual activity with a minor (someone under 18) can face legal consequences. Therefore, while a 21-year-old can legally date a 17-year-old, engaging in any sexual activity with a minor can lead to criminal charges under California law.
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Collen Clark Published by Collen Clark

According to SCLG, engaging in sexual activity with someone below the age of consent is a criminal offense [1]. In California, this act is classified as statutory rape because individuals under the age of consent cannot legally give their consent. The young age of one participant makes consensual sex legally impossible.

In California, statutory rape involving actors 4 years apart is a “wobbler.” It can be charged as either a felony or as a misdemeanor. The prosecutor decides what charge to file. Their decision is based on the facts of the case. Only the older sexual partner will be charged. The younger partner is seen as the “victim.

Penalties for Statutory Rape
The consequences of a statutory rape conviction vary based on whether it is charged as a felony or misdemeanor and depend on the ages of the defendant and the victim.

Felony Charges
For a 21-year-old engaged in sexual activity with a 17-year-old, felony penalties can include:

  • 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in jail
  • Fines up to $10,000

Misdemeanor Charges
If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties for a 21-year-old include:

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • Fines up to $1,000

In addition to criminal penalties, a civil penalty may also be imposed. The amount depends on the ages of those involved. For a 21-year-old and a 17-year-old, the civil penalty is $10,000, assessed only against the older individual.

Additional Considerations
A conviction for statutory rape in California does not require sex offender registration. However, the legal consequences, including potential jail time, fines, and civil penalties, are significant and should be taken seriously.

In California, violating the age of consent law can result in severe penalties, which vary depending on the specifics of the case:

If the perpetrator is no more than three years older than the victim, they may be charged with a misdemeanor offense. This can lead to up to one year in jail and fines of $1,000.

If the perpetrator is more than three years older than the victim, they could face either misdemeanor or felony charges. If convicted of a misdemeanor offense, the perpetrator may be subjected to a maximum of one year in jail and $1,000 in fines. A felony conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to four years and fines of up to $10,000.

In situations where the perpetrator is 21 years or older and the victim is under 16, enhanced sentencing can apply, leading to harsher penalties.

California also has a “Romeo and Juliet” law that can provide a defense for individuals engaging in consensual sexual activity with a minor who is no more than three years younger than them.

Understanding California’s age of consent laws and the associated penalties for violations is crucial. Those uncertain about the legality of a sexual relationship should seek legal advice to avoid potential criminal charges.

Also Read: HIV Disclosure in California

Romeo and Juliet Laws

Some states have enacted exceptions to their statutory rape laws, known as Romeo and Juliet laws, to protect individuals in certain circumstances. These laws serve as an affirmative defense, safeguarding certain individuals from being charged with a sex crime. If someone meets the criteria set by these laws, they will not be prosecuted for statutory rape. However, if they do not meet the requirements, they may still face charges.

Essentially, these laws allow two minors or an adult and a minor close in age to have sexual intercourse with each other. For example, the age of consent in Texas is 17. Statutory rape laws would criminalize anyone who had sex with an individual under the age of 17.

However, the Romeo and Juliet laws permit individuals aged 14 to 17 to consent to sexual intercourse with someone within three years of their age. This means a 14-year-old can legally engage in sexual activity with a 17-year-old, and similarly, a 15-year-old can legally have intercourse with an 18-year-old without facing legal penalties.

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If you or a loved one was involved with these matters, you should contact our law firm immediately for a free case evaluation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit and we can help.



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