Being convicted as a sex offender is unlike any other criminal conviction. For example, if convicted of any sex offense, in addition to serving jail time, a person would be required to register as a sex offender for a period ranging from 10 to 30 years. Therefore, your rights are severely limited and you have obligations to law enforcement.
There are already strict restrictions on anyone who has been convicted of a sex offense in our state, no matter how severe the offense was or how long it has been since the offense was committed.
If you want to find housing, a job, or receive federal assistance, you need to stay off the North Carolina sex offender registry. The sex offender registry is a public list that will follow you and for the rest of your life. It includes the names, addresses, and criminal history of anyone who has been convicted of a sex crime - especially those who have been involved with minors.
But what exactly are sex crimes? Some of what are state considers a sex crime is probably obvious - but not everything.
Below we're going to review the different types of sex crimes in North Carolina and what can be used as a possible defense strategy if you have been charged.
If you attempt to engage in sexual contact with another person against their will or by use of force, you can be charged with sexual battery. You can also be charged by engaging in sexual contact with someone who is mentally handicapped or considered physically helpless, such as an intoxicated person.
A sexual battery conviction is considered an A1 misdemeanor, which carries with it a maximum sentence of 150 days in jail. The real penalty is that you must also register as a sex offender.
If sexual battery involves penile/vaginal intercourse, it is considered rape. All other forms of unwanted penetration are considered "sexual offenses." (Finger, mouth, foreign objects, etc.) Second degree rape/sex offense is a class C felony, carrying with it a minimum sentence of 44 months and a maximum sentence of 231 months. (Note well: North Carolina DOES NOT have parole, good time, or gain time if you receive this sentence, you will serve almost all of it.)
If you engage in vaginal intercourse by the threat of a deadly weapon, or you cause serious bodily harm, you can be charged with first-degree rape. Statutory rape is also charged as first degree rape. Statutory rape occurs when the victim is 13, 14, or 15, and they engage in sexual intercourse with a person who is at least four years their senior. It does not matter if the victim consented to engage in the intercourse or not. By operation of law, if you are anywhere more than four years older than a teenager, you are presumed to know they cannot consent.
First degree sexual offense is a class B1 felony, and carries with it a potential sentence of not less than 144 months, with a potential maximum of life without parole.
Images or video that display minors engaged in sexual acts are considered child pornography. Possession, distribution, and production of child pornography are all considered felonies. If the pornography in question features violence or abuse, sentences can be harsher. The following sentences are given to first-time offenders. Repeat offenders will also receive harsher sentences.
Sex offenders, especially those who commit acts against children, are often seen as the most violent type of criminal. They are targeted for life, rarely getting the chance to put the past in the past and move on. Sex offenders cannot even live where they want to, as they cannot reside within 1,000 feet of any church, school, playground, or places where children normally would congregate.
Most states in the United States - North Carolina included - look down on sex offenders and have strict consequences and severe penalties for anyone convicted of these crimes. Even after someone has "done their time" in prison, North Carolina will require them to register as a sex offender and continue with that label in perpetuity.
Being on the sex offender registry can have devastating consequences for all aspects of your life. You may be forced from your home, your job, your family and friends, and anyone that may offer you support in order to get through this trying time.
On top of that, your conviction and your subsequent sex offender registration carry a life-long stigma. Despite studies indicating that only one out of four sex offenders reoffend, the law and the public at large will always look at you as a sex offender, no matter how much you try to change your life.
NOTE WELL: This is a very severe penalty for watching pornographic movies or not checking the age of your sexual partners.
So let's see how being on the North Carolina sex offender registry will impact your life.
You will have to register for at least 30 years - and sometimes for life. From the date of your first registration, you will have to continually register as a sex offender for at least 30 years, if not longer. The only way you will be able to reduce your registration time is if you successfully petition the court. But you are only able to petition the court after you've been registering for 10 years.
If you have been convicted of an aggravated offense, a repeated offense, or you are determined to be a sexually violent predator, then you will have to be on the registry for life, as well as verify your address every 90 days. Unless your sentence is reversed or you are pardoned, you will not be able to petition for a shorter registration period. Often times you will be required to wear an ankle bracelet for satellite monitoring.
When two people have consensual sex, there is nothing illegal about it as long as both of them are 16 or older. It doesn't matter if one half of the pairing is 10, 20, or even 30 years older. Things get a bit more complicated, however, when minors engage in sexual acts - especially if those sexual acts involve a minor and an adult.
The State of North Carolina recognizes that romantic and sexual relationships can be complicated and some people mature earlier than others, so it is not as simple as just setting the age of 16 as the cut-off point. What about high school relationships where a senior is 18 and they are dating a 15-year-old - is that statutory rape? Should it be?
Because of these types of complications, our state created an "age of consent." The age of consent means two things:
1. That minors who are at least as old as the age of consent can potentially give legal sexual consent to an adult.
2. That it is impossible for minors under the age of consent to legally give sexual consent.
So the situation where the 24-year-old youth leader had sex with a 15-year-old? That's a non-starter. Because the minor is younger than the age of consent. If, however, the minor had been 16 or older, the fact that he or she gave consent could at least be argued as a valid defense strategy.
Another complicating factor? If the child is younger than 13, the charges are more severe.
The following are a list of common charges related to statutory rape based on the age of the victim:
First Degree Rape/First Degree Sexual Offense - Class B1 felony. If sexual intercourse or a sexual act occurs between a victim under the age of 13 and a defendant over the age of 12. The defendant must also be four years older than the victim.
Statutory Rape - Class B1 felony. If sexual intercourse/sexual acts occur between a victim that is 13, 14, or 15 years old and a defendant who is at least six years older.
Statutory Rape - Class C felony. If sexual intercourse/sexual acts occur between a victim that is 13, 14, or 15 years old and a defendant that is at least four, but no more than six years older.
Taking Indecent Liberties With Children - Class F felony. If sexual behavior, for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, occurs between a minor victim and a defendant under the age of 16, but who is at least five years older than the victim. It is not required that the defendant actually touch a child to be convicted of taking indecent liberties with a child. Watching dirty movies, exposing oneself to a minor, on some occasions, observing minors in a partially dressed condition, have all been found sufficient to constitute taking indecent liberties.
Indecent Liberties Between Children - Class 1 misdemeanor. If sexual behavior, for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire, occurs between a minor victim and a defendant who is younger than 16, but who is at least three years older than the victim.
North Carolina and the "Romeo and Juliet" Exception
We all know a couple that has been together through their middle or high school years. If someone turns 18 a few months before their high school sweetheart, technically they are considered an adult, while their partner is still a minor. Do these couples have to break up or wait until the other partner turns 18?
No. Why? Exceptions are made in North Carolina for married couples, but keep in mind that these exceptions only cover consensual sex.
There are ways to defend against sex crime charges. In the case of sexual battery, assault, or kidnapping, you must prove your innocence, or show that the act was consensual. Mental illness, insanity, or in rare cases, intoxication, may also help your defense.
In the case of sexual exploitation of a minor, not knowing the age of the minors involved is not a defense.
If you have been charged with a sex crime, you want to use an aggressive defense to keep you out of jail and off of the state's sex offender registry. For a free consultation, contact a North Carolina sex crimes lawyer immediately.
For more information regarding sex offenses and your criminal charges, contact our attorney in the Wilmington and New Hanover County area today.