Washington State law usually sets the age of consent at 16. Anyone who is at least 16 is considered old enough to consent to sex.
But there is an important exception. If the person having sex with a 16- or 17-year-old is in a supervisory relationship with the youth, then the sex can be criminal. It’s called sexual misconduct with a minor.
Defending against Charges of Sexual Misconduct with a Minor
Many of the defense tactics that work well against accusations by younger persons don’t work as well with persons who are 16 or 17. By those ages, most people have about the same communication skills as adults. That means police interviews of them are not as likely to elicit false accusations as are police interviews of young children.
The focus of defense investigation in these cases is more often on the social pressures at work on the accuser. How might the accuser expect life to become easier if they made a false accusation? It’s not necessary, of course, that life actually became easier for the accuser—only that the accuser had reason to think it might get easier. Once the accusation is made, it can be very hard to retract.
Sexual relationships between these young people and some adults are considered prone to coercion. That’s why they are illegal.
This statute can be used to prosecute a teacher who has a consensual sexual relationship with a student or a coach who has one with a player. It also criminalizes consensual sexual relationships in other types of “significant relationship” such as work supervisor, whether in paid employment or volunteer work.
Second-Degree Sexual Misconduct with a Minor
Sexual misconduct with a minor in the second degree is committed any of these three ways:
Supervisory Position in a Significant Relationship
- The perpetrator has, or causes someone else under the age of 18 to have, sexual contact with another person;
- That person is either 16 or 17 years old and is not married to the perpetrator;
- The perpetrator is at least 60 months older than the person;
- The perpetrator is in a significant relationship with the person; and
- The perpetrator abuses a supervisory position within that relationship to achieve the sexual contact.
School Employee with a Student
- The perpetrator is a school employee who has, or causes another person under the age of 18 to have, sexual contact with an enrolled student of the school;
- The student is at least 16 years old and not more than 21 years old and is not married to the perpetrator; and
- The perpetrator is at least 60 months older than the student.
Foster Parent with a Foster Child
- The perpetrator is a foster parent who has, or knowingly causes another person under the age of 18 to have, sexual contact with his or her foster child; and
- The foster child is at least 16 years old.
“Sexual contact” means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party or a third party.
First-Degree Sexual Misconduct with a Minor
Sexual misconduct with a minor in the first degree can be committed in the same three ways except that, in each case, “sexual intercourse” must occur.
Under Washington law, “sexual intercourse” means what we typically think of as intercourse, as well as any penetration of the vagina or anus by any body part or object, no matter how slight the penetration, unless the penetration is for medical treatment or diagnostic purposes. It also means any sexual contact between the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another person.
Until 1991, Washington law called sexual intercourse with persons who were too young to consent “statutory rape.” That term is no longer used in Washington.
Sexual misconduct with a minor in the second degree is a gross misdemeanor. An offender can be sentenced to as much as 364 days in jail and $5,000 in a fine.
Sexual misconduct with a minor in the first degree is a Class C felony. An offender can be sentenced to as much as five years in prison and $10,000 in a fine. Conviction also leads to a 36-month period of community custody (akin to parole) after release from jail or prison.
Anyone convicted of the crime in either degree must register as a sex offender for 10 years.
Conviction of a sex crime against a young person brings stigma. Those convicted are often shunned by family and society. On community custody they often must endure onerous restrictions on their behavior. They are often not allowed to live within a thousand feet of a school, a playground, or a park—and in some communities that leaves very few places to live. They often are not allowed even to go to such places, not even to drive past them. And they usually must get permission to travel, even to go to the next county.
It might seem that a person who has improper sex with a 16- or 17-year-old should not be considered a threat to small children. But those who make decisions about convicted sex offenders usually do not make distinctions like that. They tend to regard all sex offenders as threats to small children and to restrict them accordingly.
Defending against Sexual Misconduct with a Minor Charges
The particulars of the charge are the starting point for defense investigation. For example, if the defendant is accused of the abuse of a supervisory position in a significant relationship, we look carefully at whether the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the relationship was significant, that the position was supervisory, and that the position was abused.
“Abuse of a supervisory position” means to use a direct or indirect threat or promise to exercise authority to the detriment or benefit of a minor; or to exploit a significant relationship in order to obtain the consent of a minor.
We also look at reasons the accuser might have had to make a false accusation. We know the jury will wonder, at least subconsciously, “If the defendant didn’t do this, why does the accuser say he did?” We investigate high and low for information that can help us answer that question.
Sifting and Resifting the Evidence
It is often not easy to find the answer. At the Marshall Defense Firm, we sift and resift the evidence as we investigate. Sometimes what we learned yesterday puts what we learned last week in a completely different light.
Most of our approach to other special-assault accusations is part of our approach in cases alleging sexual misconduct with a minor.
A key part of the investigation is our interview of the accuser. The defense attorney conducting this interview needs to be willing and able to delve into sexual matters and other sensitive areas. And at trial, the attorney needs to be able to go into them again without alienating the jury.
What It’s Like to Have The Marshall Defense Firm in Your Corner
Respect and compassion are the foundation of our work. We take time to get to know you and your case. It’s where our fierce advocacy for you begins.
Then there’s our experience. For decades we have defended special-assault cases like sexual misconduct with a minor. From that and our on-going study of the law, medicine, and psychology involved in these cases, we have exceptional skill.
And we pool that skill. We work as a team. We know that no one lawyer, no matter how brilliant, will have all the good ideas for your case.
Our final ingredient is relentless investigation and preparation. When we step into court to defend you, we are ready to do it well.