Romeo and Juliet Laws

Sexual assault prevention is an increasingly important topic today. In the era of #metoo, individuals and organizations are looking for ways to prevent sexual assaults and to be able to guarantee a safe environment for victims to come forward. Businesses, schools, colleges, religious institutions, and social groups are tasked with taking due diligence steps to assure that sexual assault is not occurring within its walls. This comes on the heels of major sexual abuse scandals, including the atrocities being uncovered in the Catholic church, major universities like Penn State and even movie studios and TV networks. There have been high-profile court cases of victims being compensated for institutions’ oversight of abuse, and these rulings set a precedent for future sexual abuse cases. One way that states are fighting back is by maintaining sex offender registry services and making information about previous offenses available to their citizens. The legislation is also an area that is rapidly changing to better accommodate sexual assault prevention, at both the Federal and State levels, with new laws being written and enacted across the United States. This article explores the specific category of laws referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” law, including explaining what it is, how it differs from state to state and how it affects potential sexual assault charges in situations where the two parties involved are close in age. 

Definition of Romeo and Juliet Law 

Romeo and Juliet law is a type of regulation that exists in some US states to protect young couples below the age of consent from being charged with sexual assault violations, as long as their difference in age is minor and falls into the state-specified guidelines. In other words, couples that are young and could be charged with statutory rape for simply engaging in mutually consensual sexual activities according to state laws, are protected by Romeo and Juliet laws as long as they live in a state that has them and have a small age difference. 

What States Have the Romeo and Juliet Law?

Romeo and Juliet laws differ from state to state, and they only exist in about half of all US states. These include: 
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

How Romeo and Juliet Laws Apply to You?

Romeo and Juliet laws apply to you if you live in one of the abovementioned states and are in a relationship with someone below the age of consent according to your local state laws. You may or may not be under the age of consent yourself, and your age difference with your partner is within the specified age range listed in your state’s Romeo and Juliet law. These laws are also relevant to you if you have a child or relative that is in a sexual relationship with someone under the age of consent, whether he or she is under the age of consent as well or recently having passed into a consensual age. For example, a 17-year old in Texas may be in a relationship with a 16 year old. Since Texas has a Romeo and Juliet law that allows for sexual contact between a couple within 3 years of age of each other, the 17 year old will not be charged with sexual assault for being intimate with someone under the age of consent, as long as:
  • He / she was not already a registered sex offender at the time of the sexual relationship
  • The sexual relationship was consensual between both parties

Examples of State-Specific Romeo and Juliet Laws

To better understand the differences and nuances of Romeo and Juliet laws, looking at some examples may be helpful. 

Example 1: Florida

The Florida Romeo and Juliet law protects individuals from sexual assault charges if they engage in sexual activities with someone under the age of consent, which is eighteen years old, in the state. In order to be protected, one must meet the below criteria:
  • The victim is between the ages of 14 and 17
  • The victim was no more than four years younger than the offender
  • The victim must have been a willing participant in the sexual activity
  • The offender does not have any previous sex crimes on their record

Example #2: Texas

The Texas Romeo and Juliet law also protects individuals from sexual assault charges if they engage in sexual activities with someone under eighteen, but the criteria differs slightly: 
  • The victim was no more than 3 years of difference in age than the offender
  • Neither person was a registered sexual offender
  • Each party needed to be at least 14 years old 
  • Both parties needed to be consenting
It is clear that these types of laws have similarities from state to state, but variations also exist from state to state. The details matter, as being just a bit off from the required age difference range makes one ineligible to be covered by Romeo and Juliet laws. 

What Is The Age Of Consent?

The legal age that someone can consent to sexual activities varies from state to state, but all states fall within the 16 to 18 range. It is important that all people, particularly teens coming of age, are educated about the age of consent in their state.
Statute of Limitations for Statutory Rape
Statutes of Limitations can impose a time limit for charging people with statutory rape crimes. Currently, thirty-four states have some types of statutes for crimes, including statutory rape. This can be anywhere between three to thirty years, and statutes exist to preserve the integrity of the evidence. The rest of the states do not have any statutes of limitations for statutory rape. 
In conclusion, sexual assault laws differ from state to state, but minors or young adults are sometimes protected from sexual assault charges via Romeo and Juliet laws. These laws can help to bring common sense and peace of mind to young couples engaged in consensual intimacy. It is important to understand the Romeo and Juliet laws in your state.