The Class C felony, punishable by as many as eight years in prison, becomes a Class B felony if committed by someone at least 21.
It becomes a Class A felony if committed while armed, if injury occurs or if drugs were slipped to the victim.
The main laws that apply to people who engage in sexual activity with an underage person are child molesting and sexual misconduct with a minor.
Child molesting is defined as having intercourse or engaging in deviate sexual conduct with a child younger than 14.
Gensel said Indiana law was amended within the past few years to address such cases.
Indiana law now states a person can have sex with someone under the age of consent as long as he or she is not more than four years older than the underage person and if the relationship was ongoing. A person accused of a sex crime also might be able to avoid prosecution if he or she can prove they reasonably believed the victim was at least 16 years old.
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If only fondling is involved, the offense drops one felony level. For years in Indiana, the age at which a person could legally consent to have sex was 16.
But lawyers for young defendants accused of having sex with 14- and 15-year-olds now can pose a defense against charges of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Even though a person can face serious prison time for engaging in sexual acts with someone under the age of consent, quite a few people don't even know the age of consent. There's a presumption in the law that prior to 16, you're not capable of consenting," Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said.
Gensel said prosecutors have long used discretion when deciding whether to file charges in borderline cases -- like when an 18-year-old male is in a dating/sexual relationship with a girl who is about to turn 16.
Public Law 216 [HEA 1386], which went into effect July 1, contains a long list of criminal law changes related to sexual and violent offenses and the Indiana Sex Offender Registry, which has been renamed the Sex and Violent Offender Registry.