While the statutory age of consent in Washington State is sixteen years of age, the practical age of consent is eighteen years of age. The reason for this difference is Washington's criminal law regarding “Communication with a Minor for Immoral Purposes”.
RCW 9.68a.090 defines this crime, which can be prosecuted as either a gross misdemeanor or a felony, depending on whether the accused has a history of sexual offenses, or the manner of the communication. This means that the maximum sentence can be either one year in jail, or five years in prison. A huge difference!
When a communication is accomplished electronically, it will be prosecuted as a felony. This creates some strange and illogical situations such as: an in person communication may be prosecuted as a more minor offense, while the same communication made via e-mail, telephone, or text message will have felony consequences.
There has been a great deal of case law and argument in the courts over whether someone can be convicted of communicating about something that is entirely legal. For instance, why should it be illegal to communicate with a seventeen year old about sex, when it is entirely legal to actually engage in sex with that same seventeen-year-old? There are no great answers for this difference, but prosecutors and judges in different jurisdictions may view this law differently.
In areas of unsettled law, it is best to act conservatively, so as to avoid becoming the test case. So we advise those embarking in new relationships to consider the age of consent in Washington to be eighteen. However, for those accused of this crime, this area of law holds promise, due to its lack of clarity. If lawyers and judges are unsure as to how this statute can be interpreted, imagine a jury's task.
The lawyers at Newton & Hall are well prepared to argue these issues, and look forward to assisting you if you are accused of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.
When you are facing serious criminal charges we can help. Call us at (253) 867-2675 to schedule a free initial consultation. Our Seattle criminal defense attorneys in Seattle are standing by.