In New Hampshire, people who engage in sexual activity with children under the age of consent (age 16) can be convicted of sexual assault (also called statutory rape).
Under New Hampshire’s statutory rape laws, the determinative fact is the age of the victim and the age difference between the victim and the defendant. It does not matter whether the victim consented to or pursued the intimate relationship.
Of course, people who commit sex acts by force or without the other person’s consent can also be charged and convicted of sex crimes, assault, or both.
- engaging in any sexual contact with a child who is at least 13 years old but under the age of 16, when the defendant is five or more years older, or engaging in sexual penetration (sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex, or sexual penetration of the victim or the defendant) with a child who is at least 13 years old but under the age of 16 when the defendant is less than four years older than the child.
Statutory rape is punished more severely (as felonious sexual assault) if the defendant is four or more years older than the victim and engages in sexual penetration. Statutory rape is also punished more severely in situations of incest or where the victim is under the age of 18 and the defendant is in a position of authority over the child.
Any sexual penetration or touching of a child under the age of 13 is aggravated felonious sexual assault or felonious sexual assault. A conviction for sexual contact with a child younger than 13 can result in significant prison time. (N. H. Rev. Stat. §§ 632-A:2 (I)(l), (II), 632-A:3 (2019).)
It is also illegal in New Hampshire to invite or persuade a child under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity, whether the invitation occurs in person or by computer, and regardless of whether any sexual activity (or face-to-face meeting) ever occurs. (N. H. Rev. Stat. §§ 639:3, 649-B:4 (2019).)
Defendants are routinely arrested and prosecuted for child enticement as a result of sting operations set up by law enforcement officers posing online as children interested in sex with older men.
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as “Someone else committed this crime,” or “The alleged conduct did not occur.” One or more of the following defenses may also apply.
Many states have enacted “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions to statutory rape laws. Named for Shakespeare’s characters, these exceptions protect young people from criminal charges as a result of consensual sexual activity with other teens. In New Hampshire, it is not a crime to engage in consensual sexual conduct short of penetration with a person over the age of 13 unless the defendant is at least five years older, and consensual penetration with a person over the age of 13 by a person within four years in age is a misdemeanor and the defendant is not required to register as a sex offender. (N. H. Rev. Stat. § 632-A:4 (2019).)
For example, a 17-year-old who engages in consensual fondling with a 14-year-old has not committed a crime in New Hampshire. Engaging in consensual sex with a 15-year-old is a felony if the defendant is 27 years old, but only a misdemeanor if the defendant is 18 years old.
Under New Hampshire’s laws, it is a defense to a charge of statutory rape that the defendant and the child are married so long as the sexual activity is consensual and the child is over the age of 13. (N. H. Rev. Stat. §§ 632-A:2, 632-A:3, 632-A:4 (2019).) This defense is part of the marital rape exemption that historically protected men from any charges for raping their wives.
In most states, including New Hampshire, it is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape that the defendant mistakenly believed the child to be over the age of consent, even if the child actively concealed or lied about his or her age. (State v. Holmes, 154 N. H. 723, 920 A.2d 632 (2007).)
Sexual assault is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. (N. H. Rev. Stat. §§ 632-A:4, 651:2 (2019).)
Felonious sexual assault is a Class B felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $4,000. (N. H. Rev. Stat. §§ 632-A:3, 651:2 (2019).)
Aggravated felonious sexual assault is punishable by ten to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $4,000, and lifetime supervision by the Department of Corrections. Second and subsequent convictions for aggravated felonious sexual assault are punished more severely. (N. H. Rev. Stat. §§ 632-A:2, 632-A:10-a, 651:2 (2019).)
Generally, people who are convicted of sexual assault are required to register as sex offenders under New Hampshire’s law. However, people who are convicted of sexual assault as a result of sexual activity with a person who is at least 13 and who is less than four years younger than the defendant are not required to register as sex offenders. (N. H. Rev. Stat. §§ 632-A:4, 651-B:1, 651-B:2 (2019).)
A conviction for sexual assault can have extremely negative consequences, including a lengthy prison term and sex offender registration. If you are charged with a crime as a result of sexual activity with a person under the age of consent, you should talk to a New Hampshire criminal defense attorney. The law can change at any time, and an attorney can tell you what to expect in court based on the facts of your case and the assigned judge and prosecutor. An attorney can help you defend yourself in court and protect your rights.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.