Kid law, part eight: Sex, smoking and theft |

Kid law, part eight: Sex, smoking and theft

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

The first six parts of this series, have considered a grab bag of matters pertaining to laws which directly affect kids, their parents and those who might exploit them. Go to, under “Services”, pick “Archives,” then search “Columnists” for “Robbins,” if you think you might find something useful.

In this, the second to last column in the series, we will take a look at kids and sex, smoking, stealing and the receipt of stolen property.

In most states, it is unlawful for minors to have sex or for anyone to have sex with a minor. While this may fly in the face of our changing morality ” roughly half of all high school students nationwide have had sexual intercourse ” it nonetheless remains the law. Even a minor having sex with another minor may be a crime.

An adult who has sex with a minor commits statutory rape. This is true even with the consent of the minor. The age of consent, however, varies from state to state. In some, it is as young as 15. In most, the age remains the age of majority, or 18. In some jurisdictions, the adult having sex with a minor must be a certain number of years older than the minor in order to constitute statutory rape. In others, an adult’s sex acts with a minor constitutes a crime however close in age the partners may be.

In some places, if an adult up to a certain number of years older than the minor has sex with a minor, he or she commits a misdemeanor offense while if the age difference is greater, a felony occurs. There may also be distinctions pertaining to sex with a very young child, a crime for which the punishment may be even more severe. Forcible rape is always a serious crime.

Sexual intercourse is not the only sex act with a child which may be punished. Punishment may also be meted out for molesting a child, for photographing a child to sexually exploit a child, sexual predation of a child over the Internet, and others.


While cigarette smoking among teens has steadily declined since the 1990s, one in five high school students still smokes at least once a month and roughly 5 percent smoke at least half a pack a day. While likely less of an issue in healthy Happy Valley than in many other parts of the nation, most states have enacted laws aimed at limiting minors’ access to tobacco.

In most states, it is against the law for minors to purchase, receive or possess tobacco. Similarly, it against the law to knowingly sell, give or otherwise distribute tobacco products ” including rolling papers, snuff or chewing tobacco ” to a minor. In many states, retailers that sell tobacco products must prominently post notices stating that they must and will check the identification of anyone purchasing tobacco products who appears to be younger than 18. While it is the vendor and/or store clerk who suffer for selling tobacco products to a minor, minors may also face prosecution.


The Tom Sawyer – Huck Finn image of youthful hijinks may be planted in our collective psyche but that boys-will-be-boys attitude has no traction when it comes to theft. Simply walking off with something without paying for it amounts to theft, whether this means not paying for a tank of gas, a meal or merchandise in a store.

Speaking broadly, there are two kinds of theft, often referred to as “grand” or “petty.” In petty theft, the value of the property or cash that’s taken is usually $400 or less. Grand theft applies to property or cash of greater value. In some cases, parents may be held financially liable for what their children steal.

Car crimes

“Joyriding” is distinguishable from auto theft because there is generally no intent to keep the car. In most cases, joyriding is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Robbery, car-jacking and extortion are generally considered crimes against persons rather than merely property crimes and are more serious than simple theft. As a result of the force, fear or intimidation, crimes against persons generally hold out greater penalties.

A common belief is that buying stolen property is not a crime because the buyer did not steal it. In truth, however, receipt of stolen property is a crime. To be guilty of the crime of receipt of stolen property, however, the person acquiring the property must know that it was stolen or reasonably should have known that it was stolen. What can create a presumption that the buyer knew the origin of the property are such matters as the price paid, whether there was an attempt to conceal the purchase, whether any identifying marks had been removed and from whom the property was purchased.

In the final column of this series, we will examine kids and work, truancy, and will try to sum up what may be unique about kids, at least in the eyes of the law.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or by e-mail at

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