What You Need to Know About the Law of Consent in Oregon

By Bryan Boender, Attorney at Law

The Oregon Criminal Code provides that a person is considered incapable of consenting to a sexual act if the person is:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Mentally defective;
  • Mentally incapacitated; or
  • Physically helpless.

The law further provides that “a lack of verbal or physical resistance does not, by itself, constitute consent but may be considered by the trier of fact along with all other relevant evidence.” See ORS 163.315

The Rules of Consent

A person under 18 cannot consent to a sexual act.

Oregon Law provides that a person under 18 years of age cannot consent to a sexual act. In Oregon, you must be at least 18 years old to give valid consent. Consent given by an individual under the age of 18 will not be presumed valid. However, there may be defenses available, such as the defense specified in ORS163.345, nicknamed the “Romeo and Juliet” defense. This defense applies when two individuals who are both at least 15 years of age, and are within three years of one another’s age, engage in intercourse. Applied successfully, this defense rebuts the assumption that the consent is de facto invalid because one or both of the parties were under 18 years old. However, both individuals must still have voluntarily consented.

Your ignorance or mistake may not be a defense. ORS 163.325 provides that in certain sex crime prosecutions ignorance or mistake is a limited defense when it comes to knowing the age of your sexual partners. An affirmative defense may apply if the defendant reasonably believed the child to be above a specified age at the time of the alleged offense for crimes that depend on the child being under a specified age other than 16. If a child is under 16 years of age, however, it is not a defense that a defendant reasonably believed the child to be older than the age of 16. Even if they showed you a fake ID, it is a strict liability offense to engage in sexual activity with a minor under 16 years of age.

Other Factors for Consent: Physical Helplessness, Mental Incapacitation or Mental Defect.

In addition to age, other factors must be met in order for consent to be presumed valid. For instance, consent must have been given by an individual of sound mind. If there is evidence of mental defect, the person was unconscious or asleep, whether the person was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, or even if the individual believes that they were drugged, these circumstances could be the basis for and arrest and prosecution for major felony sex crimes.

Importance of Verbal Consent

Under Oregon law, lack of physical or verbal resistance alone is not enough to find consent. In these instances, a judge or jury will look into the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime in order to determine of whether a person was capable of consent. However, the best way to avoid difficult legal situations in court is to ensure that you have enthusiastic and verbal consent from your sexual partner before anything happens.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or your loved one has been accused of sexual misconduct, contact a lawyer immediately. Sex crimes in Oregon can carry mandatory minimum sentences under Ballot Measure 11. In some circumstances, Jessica’s Law may also apply, which carries a mandatory minimum of 300 months imprisonment.