• Brad Keating

Age of Consent in Tennessee

The age of consent in Tennessee is 18 years old. Any sexual contact with minors, with or without permission, is a criminal offense punishable with fines and time in a federal or state prison. Sex of any kind with a person under the legal age is classed as statutory rape and is considered a sexual assault.


Age of consent laws differ from those surrounding the sexual abuse of minors. Class A felonies, including aggravated rape of a minor, carry the heaviest penalties and are often ruled over by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Statutory rape in its varying forms is a class E, class C, or class D felony and ranges from first degree to fourth degree, depending on the circumstances.


Consent laws vary between states, ranging from 16 to 18 years old. Hawaii was the final state to raise the minimum age of consent from 14 to 16 years old in 2001.


Statutory Rape and Other Sexual Abuse Charges

Statutory Rape and Other Sexual Abuse Charges


There are varying Tennessee statutory rape laws and sexual assault charges ranging from class A to class E felonies. Maximum fines and prison time vary based on the nature and severity of the crime.

  • Aggravated rape: Class A felony with a fine of up to $50,000 and a maximum of 60 years in prison.

  • Aggravated sexual battery: Class B felony with a fine of up to $25,000 and between eight and 30 years in prison

  • Statutory rape by an authority figure: Class C felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and between three and 15 years in prison

  • Sexual battery by an authority figure: Class C felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and between three and 15 years in prison

  • Aggravated statutory rape: Class D felony with a fine of up to $5,000 and between two and 12 years in prison

  • Statutory rape: Class E felony with a fine of up to $3,000 and a maximum of six years in prison

  • Mitigated statutory rape: Class E felony with a fine of up to $3,000 and a maximum of six years in prison

Any sexual act with a minor below 18 years old, "consensual" or not, is a felony. Statutory rape laws exist to protect young people. Prosecution against any form of sexual assault or sexual activities with minors in Tennessee is exercised to the maximum extent of the law, with severe penalties applied to each offense. People convicted of any of the above-mentioned crimes are registered on the sex offenders list.


Exemptions and Defenses


Although the Tennessee age of consent laws are inherently strict, there are rare cases where sex with a person below the legal minimum age may not be ruled as a crime.


These exceptions are not grounds for cause. Even where exemptions apply, the court may still decide to press criminal charges. These defenses are in place for exceptional cases, not to create loopholes for inappropriate sexual conduct.


Close in age exemption (Romeo and Juliet)

Known as the Romeo and Juliet law, the close-in age exemption applies when two parties both under the age of consent engage in sexual relations. It only applies when the youngest party is at least 13 years old- and the other is less than four years older than the victim. Two minors of the same age who partake in sexual acts with mutual consent are not committing a felony under Tennessee law.


It also means that two people who are 14 years old and 17 years old, respectively, can engage in consensual sex without fear of prosecution. However, a 19-year-old who had sexual contact with a 17-year-old could face statutory rape charges, even though they are only two years older. Age difference does not matter if one party is below the Tennessee age of consent.


The Romeo and Juliet law is not applicable in every state, and the specifics vary in those that allow it as a defense. Tennessee is one state that does recognize the close-in-age exemption, but only between the age range of 13 and 17 years old.


If the defendant is more than four years older than the victim, no matter what age they are, consent is not legally possible. A couple aged 16 and 21 cannot, by law, engage in consensual sex.


Reasonable mistake

Although it is a common defense put forward in statutory rape cases, reasonable mistake is not an acceptable excuse under Tennessee law. Most states do not recognize this defense, but there are several who allow it under certain circumstances.


This defense is where the defendant claims they did not know the victim was below the Tennessee age of consent. Sometimes the defendant may have believed the victim was years older than they truthfully were, but it is their legal responsibility as an adult to make sure.


Even if the defendant provides evidence to suggest they did not know the actual age of the minor in question, state laws dictate that a crime has still been committed.


Marriage Exception

Statutory rape does not apply to married couples. Regardless of age or how many years older one party is, a lawfully married couple can engage in consensual sexual intercourse without it being considered statutory rape.


The age of consent for a person to get married in Tennessee is 17 years old. Before 2018, a child of any age could marry an adult with parental consent and permission of the court. A bill passed setting the legal marriage age at 17. It also dictates that the other party in the marriage must be no more than four years older.


Such laws are designed to eradicate child marriage. It was happening in Tennessee until very recently to children as young as 10 years old. Raising the age of consent law for marriage is a step towards reducing legalized statutory rape.


Terminology


Sexual Penetration VS Sexual Intercourse

Sexual intercourse must involve at least two parties engaging in physical sex. Vaginal, oral, and anal sex are all considered acts of sexual intercourse. Sexual penetration is the insertion of any object or body part into the vagina or anus. Both these acts are considered a crime in Tennessee when performed with a person below 18 years old.


Sexual Battery

Battery is sexual contact without consent. There is no intercourse or penetration involved, but force is used to achieve sexual gratification for the attacker. It is considered aggravated if any bodily harm befalls the victim or a weapon is used in the process.


If you or someone you know has been injured at no fault of your own, contact experienced personal injury attorneys for help.


First Degree, Second Degree, and Third Degree

In Tennessee, the degree of rape is determined in part by the ages of the victims. First or second-degree rape usually applies when a victim is many years younger than the defendant. A child below 12 or a blood-related child below 16 is classed as rape in the first or second degree. Third-degree charges are given when the child is between 13 and 16- and the defendant is at least three years older than the victim.


Statutory Rape VS Aggravated Rape

The primary difference between rape and statutory rape is the nature of the crime. Aggravated rape is a violent crime where the victim is forced to engage in unwanted sexual activity. Many abortion laws include aggravated rape. Statutory rape is when a person has sexual contact with a person below the legal age of consent. Although the minor may consent to the act in practice, their consent is not recognized by the law.


Statutory Rape VS Mitigated Statutory Rape

When the victim is between the ages of 15 and 17 years old and the defendant is close in age but legally classed as an adult (the victim can be no more than five years younger), it is classed as mitigated statutory rape. Sexual activity with a person between the ages of 13 and 17 when the defendant is more than four years older is statutory rape.


Both mitigated and statutory rape carries the same potential penalties. If the victim is below the age of 13, any sexual activity is considered rape of a child. As a Class-A felony, this carries far more severe punishments and convictions- including up to 60 years in federal prison.


Consensual Sex

Consensual Sex

Even if a minor permits the defendant to engage in sexual activity, it is not considered legally consensual. Only two legal adults (over 18 according to Tennessee laws) who mutually agree and consent to sexual contact are engaging in consensual sex.


Summary

In Tennessee, statutory rape comes with simple legal advice: the age of consent is 18, and anything other than two consenting adults can be prosecuted as a criminal offense. Aside from the close-in-age rule that applies to very few cases- where the age difference is minimal and both parties are below the age of consent- there is very little room for movement.


Any person seeking legal advice relating to statutory rape and age of consent is entitled to confidentiality as part of the attorney-client relationship. Contacting a trusted and experienced law firm for legal guidance in this area is advisable for anyone looking to prosecute or defend.