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Juvenile Sex Crimes in Utah Involving Kids Under 14 Years Old

Kids Under 14 Years Old Can’t Consent to Sex

In Utah, kids under 14 years of age cannot consent to sex.  This raises a dilemma for the juvenile courts when two kids under the age of 14 years old decide to engage in sexual activity.  The State often gets involved in cases involving sexual activity between young kids. Such cases typically involve one of the two children notifying someone about the sexual encounters and then authorities are notified.

The problem is that all sex crimes presume there is an identifiable perpetrator and victim.  What happens when the kids “consented” to sex but the law prohibits them from consenting?  The Utah Supreme Court has answered that question in the case known as State in the interest of Z.C.

The Z.C. Case

In that case, the Utah Supreme Court explored the application of Utah’s sexual abuse of a child statute in cases of “consensual,” sex between two children.  Z.C., a thirteen year old girl, engaged in consensual sex with a twelve year old boy and became pregnant.  The prosecutor in the case chose to file delinquency petitions against both Z.C. and the boy for sexual abuse of a child, a crime that would constitute a second degree felony if committed by an adult.  Z.C. filed a motion to dismiss the petition on both state and federal constitutional grounds, invoking her constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and uniform operation of the law.

The Utah Supreme Court noted that while the plain language of the statute allowed Z.C. to be charged and adjudicated delinquent for child sex abuse, applying the statute to a case such as Z.C.’s led to an absurd result, and thus the denial of her motion to dismiss was in error.

The Court stated that “[n]ormally, where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, our analysis ends; our duty is to give effect to that plain meaning. However, ‘[a]n equally well-settled caveat to the plain meaning rule states that a court should not follow the literal language of a statute if its plain meaning works an absurd result.’”  The Court concluded that the absurd results canon of statutory construction recognizes that “although the plain language interpretation of a statute enjoys a robust presumption in its favor, it is also true that [a legislative body] cannot, in every instance, be counted on to have said what it meant or to have meant what it said.”

Indeed, the Court acknowledged, “in cases where there is an identifiable distinction between the perpetrator and the victim, it is manifestly logical to conclude that the legislature intended to include such acts within the scope of [the statute].”   The Court continued on to distinguish, however, “…where both children were under the age of fourteen and were of similar age, where both children met the intent requirement of the statute, and where there was no evidence of any coercion or force, we conclude that application of the child sex abuse statute produces an absurd result.”

Thus, even though kids under the age of 14 years old cannot legally consent to sex, so long as they engage in sexual activity that is not forced or coerced the State cannot charged the youths with a crime because it would create an absurd result.

Utah Juvenile Crime Defense Lawyer

Our attorneys represent kids who have been accused of sex crimes.  If your son or daughter is facing serious charges call our law firm at 801.413.1753.