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“And it doesn’t matter what the gender is; if it’s the female that is the older one, she’s the one in trouble,” said Nguyen.

That means, for example, that teens as close as a 15 and a 17 year old or a 14 and 16 year old, depending on their birthdates, could be in violation of the law if their relationship becomes sexual in nature.“Just dating in and of itself isn’t illegal,” said Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander.

“We have ninth graders who go to school with seniors, and they’re intermingling.

We’re not trying to stop that — it’s when they take it one step further.”So how do these instances make it from the private corners of teenagers’ lives to the desks of law enforcement officers?

Proof comes in the form of pregnancies, medical issues and digital communications that go public.“Most of the time we question them and they admit it, but they think, ‘we’re both under 18, it’s consensual, how can we get in trouble for this? Often parents are under the same, misinformed impression.“The parents (of the younger teen) will be OK with it and think, ‘ah, he’s a nice guy’, and we’re not saying he isn’t nice,” said Glander, “but it doesn’t matter — it’s their age and activity that’s the problem.”Once the investigation is complete, the case is sent over to the county attorney’s office for review. Consequences Assistant Becker County Attorney Kevin Miller says when cases like this come across his desk, his decision to prosecute is typically already determined by the statute.“If there’s a crime broken there, you have to end up quite frequently charging it out,” said Miller, who does say every case is different, and therefore which punishments are sought can vary.

If the person being charged is an adult, they may be harsher.

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Sexting One might think that tech-savvy teenagers would understand the gravity of sending nude or inappropriate photos of themselves to others, and yet investigators in Becker County say it happens all the time.

A minor may also consent to medical treatment if he or she is: at least 15 years of age, living apart from parents, and managing his or her own personal finances.

The following chart provides a quick summary of California's legal age laws.

When it comes to having the capacity to undertake certain legal actions, California law allows a minor to sue to enforce his or her rights -- although a guardian must conduct the actual lawsuit for the minor.

In California, except for a few restrictions relating to real and personal property, a minor may also make valid legal contracts.

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a California family law attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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