The recently reported pregnancy of sixteen-year-old television star Jamie Lynn Spears has drawn a spotlight on the issue of statutory rape and the different state laws that apply. While most high school aged people do not travel extensively interstate, apparently, given Ms. Spears’ occupation, and her domicile in Louisiana and the baby’s alleged father’s domicile in Mississippi, and the fact that apparently Ms. Spears and the alleged father traveled to California to enable Ms. Spears to tape her television program, this means that any criminal liability would have to be determined in the state where the potential sex act or acts occurred.
In California, if a person has “consensual” sex with a minor, and the person not more than three years older than the minor, the person has committed a misdemeanor crime. Apparently, under Louisiana law, any person over age 17 years who has sexual intercourse with a minor age 12 to 16 years, and the age disparity is more than two years; likewise the person has committed a crime. In Mississippi, however, the legal age of consent is 16 years, meaning that a person can have sexual intercourse with a person who is 16 years of age or older, and, so long as the encounter is consensual, no crime has been committed.
As to Ms. Spears’ case, many people have commented that there is little chance that the child’s alleged father will be prosecuted. Many have also noted that the state-to-state disparity in statutory rape laws, as well as treatment by local prosecutors and police, often results in unjust and disparate treatment of similarly situated offenders.