Mistake of Age as a Defense to Statutory Rape

Sex crimes are treated very seriously in Minnesota, and none more so than sex crimes against younger victims. This is why if you are accused of statutory rape, you need to be dedicated and proactive in your defense or face the consequences. However, often the issue with statutory rape is that the accused didn’t actually intend to go after someone below the age of consent or even below the age of majority. However, children are often excited to become adults, and thus put themselves into situations where it is reasonable to believe that they are one. It is for this reason, that if you are accused of statutory rape, you may want to pursue mistake of age as a defense.


There are a number of sexual conduct laws put in place in Minnesota to both protect consenting underage couples as well as punish predatory adults. In Minnesota, the age of consent is 16 years old, but sexual conduct between two underage individuals is not criminalized unless the victim is under 13 years of age. Furthermore, underage individuals are protected by a “Romeo and Juliet” law where they can engage in consensual activity if they are not separated by more than three years of age.

As an example, a 14 year old can have consensual sex with a 16 year old without it being a crime. Likewise, a 16 year old can engage in sex with an 18 year old. However, when an 18 year old engages in sex with a 14 year old, it is statutory rape. However, those that are charged with statutory rape do need to have reasonable knowledge that the person they were having sex with was underage.


In statutory rape cases, mistake of age can be a valid defense strategy. However, it is also a limited one. There specific criteria that must be met in order for it to be valid, and this criteria makes the defense very narrow in scope, more so than you would expect. However, if your case fits it, it can be a good route to pursue in order to negate statutory rape charges.

In order for a mistake of age defense to be valid, you case must involve the following:

  • The child is over 13 years of age
  • You believed the victim to be older than 16 years of age
  • The belief of the victim’s age was a reasonable one
  • The accused must not be more than 10 years older than the victim

Often the trickiest part of the above is the age of the accused. If you were 19 and believed the victim to be 16 or older, mistake of age can be more easily digestible to a jury. However, if you were 27 and believed the victim to be over 16, but still knew they were below 18, then things can be difficult and mistake of age might not be valid.

However, if you were lead to believe that the victim was 18 or above, then this defense can work for you if the qualifications are met. The next most difficult step is to prove their deception gave you reasonable knowledge to believe they were the age they claimed. Often the situation is crucial. For example, if they were in a bar, especially one that cards at the door, it would be reasonable for you to assume that they were at least 21 years old in order to get in.

However, if you were for some reason at a high school party, then their deception should have been easier to unravel. The chances of an 18 year old being at a high school party is definitely possible, but significantly less likely considering the age range of high school.


Are you accused of statutory rape? It is a very serious issue and needs to be addressed properly. If you were accused in Minnesota and believe that you had reasonable mistake of age or otherwise need someone to come to your defense, contact us today. No one wants a sex crime on their record, and the Speas Law Firm can help prevent it.