Young people often strive to appear older than they really are. In many cases it is difficult to judge how old a young person is based solely on how he or she dresses and acts – which is especially treacherous given that a mistake about a person’s age can lead to criminal charges, such as when a person faces charges of statutory rape. However, Illinois law does recognize that people may honestly be mistaken about a young person’s age, and allows people to raise a defense of “reasonable mistake of age” to some sexual assault charges.
Age of Consent and Mistaken Age Defense in Illinois
Every state, including Illinois, recognizes a form a sexual assault commonly referred to as statutory rape. These assaults are known as statutory rape because an alleged violator can face charges even if the victim gave verbal consent to the act – this is because Illinois law does not recognize the capacity of those under 17 years old to consent to sexual activity.
However, Illinois statutes regarding age of consent specifically identify three statutory rape offenses in which it is permissible for the alleged violator to raise the defense that he or she reasonably believed the minor in question was above the age of 17. In these situations, the alleged violator has the burden of proving that he or she actually believed that the minor was 17 years old or older and that the belief was reasonable.
The three sexual abuse violations in which mistake of age may be used as a defense include:
- Criminal Sexual Abuse – when a person under the age of 17 commits a sexual act with another who is at least nine years old but under 17 years old.
- Criminal Sexual Abuse – when a person over the age of 17 commits a sexual act with a person under the age of 17 but over the age of 13 and the person is less than five years older than the minor.
- Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse – when a person commits sexual penetration or a sexual act with a person at least 13 years old but under 17 years old, and the actor is a least five years older than the minor.
Charges involving sex offenses are serious and can haunt a person for the rest of his or her life – and can get exceedingly difficult in situations in which a young person lies about their age or attempts to appear older than they really are. An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist a person charged with a sexual assault navigate the complex sexual abuse laws.