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California Rape Laws

Overview of California Rape Laws

Rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse that happens without the consent of at least one of the participants. Rape falls under the the broader category of sexual assault (which includes offenses such as groping and other unwanted sexual advances). If an individual has sexual intercourse with someone, the crime of rape may occur under the following scenarios described by California state laws:

  • The defendant used physical force, intimidation, duress, or threats to persuade the victim to engage in sexual intercourse. The victim reacted due to a fear of immediate bodily injury or injury to another person.
  • The victim had a developmental delay or physical disability that resulted in a lack of capacity to give consent to sexual intercourse with the defendant.
  • Intoxication by alcohol or drugs impaired the victim's ability to consent. The defendant knew or reasonably should have known about the victim's impairment.
  • The victim was unconscious, asleep, or otherwise unaware that sexual intercourse was happening.
  • The defendant induced the victim to engage in sexual intercourse by making a fraudulent representation. For example, the defendant may have lied about being a public official and threatened consequences if the victim did not comply.

Under California rape laws, a prosecutor may charge a defendant with the rape of a spouse if one of the preceding scenarios occurred.

State law also defines the rape of minors when an adult engaged in sexual intercourse with a minor. California rape laws define a minor as an individual under the age of eighteen. The severity of the charge depends on the age of the victim and the age difference between the defendant and the victim. When sexual intercourse happens between an adult and a minor, the act itself may be enough for a prosecution; the defendant did not necessarily need to engage in any of the threatening, violent, or otherwise unlawful conduct that describes rape between adults.

Defenses to Rape Charges

  • Consent: If the defendant can prove that sexual intercourse did not violate the victim's will, due to the other person's consent or permission, the prosecutor may be unable to establish the elements of rape. Consent often becomes a controversial defense, however, because the argument may require evidence of the victim's sexual history. When the rape victim is a child or an individual lacking mental capacity, consent is not an acceptable defense.

Penalties and Sentences

In general, California state laws punish a conviction of rape with a sentence of imprisonment in state prison for three, six, or eight years. The potential sentence increases to a range of seven to eleven years when the rape victim is a minor who is over fourteen years of age. The potential sentence further increases to a range of nine to thirteen years when the victim is a child under the age of fourteen. Each sentence can also increase if the defendant acted in concert with another person to rape the victim.

California state laws set fines to be paid as civil penalties when an adult engages in sexual intercourse with a minor. The fines range from $2,000 to $25,000.

State law establishes an alternate punishment for rape when less than three years separate the ages of the defendant and the victim. For this crime, the prosecutor may pursue either a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge. The consequences of a conviction may be a term ranging from one year to three years in county jail. The state might also consider the defendant's prior or current criminal record and decide whether to pursue enhanced sentencing.

California Rape Laws: Statute

California Penal Code Sections 261-269

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a California criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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