In the latest legislative session, the Utah Legislature changed the law for Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor, Utah Code § 76-2-304.5. The previous version of the law made it unlawful to engage in “sexual conduct” with a minor between the ages of 16 and 18 if the perpetrator was found to be ten or more years older than the minor at the time of the conduct.
Now, the law divides the offense into two categories of offenders: (1) offenders that are ten or more years older than the minor at the time of the conduct, or (2) offenders that are between seven and ten years older than the minor at the time of the conduct.
For those offenders between seven and ten years older than the minor at the time of the sexual conduct, the new statute requires that the perpetrator “knew or reasonably should have known the age of the minor.” For offenders ten years or older than the minor at the time of the sexual conduct, the State does not have to prove that the offender knew or should have known the minor was between the age of 16 and 18. The amended law specifies that offenders that are ten years or older than the minor cannot claim they were mistaken or unaware of the minor’s age, but this defense is available to the class of offenders that are seven to ten years older than the minor. See Utah Code § 76-2-304.5.
For the full text of the changes to the bill, visit the Utah Legislature website at: HB0010.html. The Governor signed the bill into law on March 22, 2013.
It is unclear in the amendment how the State of Utah will go about proving how a defendant “knew or reasonably should have known” that a victim was between 16 and 18 years of age at the time of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with them. Much like other crimes that depend on proof of a defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense, the State of Utah will likely have to rely on circumstantial evidence. For example, if an alleged offender were to pick up the victim from a high school, a jury might be convinced that the offender knew or should have known that the victim was between 16 and 18 years old.
This addition to the Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor statute broadens the scope of the law, making it possible to prosecute more individuals. At the same time, the change complicates the prosecution of those found to be between seven and ten years older than the minor. If you or a loved one has been accused of a sex crime, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced sex crime attorney to help navigate through the ever-changing laws criminalizing sex crimes and achieve the most positive outcome for you and your family.