Romeo and Juliet Laws

Definition - What does Romeo and Juliet Laws mean?

Romeo and Juliet laws apply to cases where two teenagers are a couple and have consensual sex, or where one is a teenager and the other is just over 18 (but the sex is still consensual). They preclude statutory rape laws being carried out on the couple due to the fact that the only reason it would be considered rape is because there is a lack of legal clarification for the category where both parties form a couple and the actions of both are consensual.

Romeo and Juliet laws were introduced due to the high number of cases coming before the courts regarding statutory rape. Under normal rape laws, one party must not be willing, i.e. the act is not consensual.

Justipedia explains Romeo and Juliet Laws

The reason why Romeo and Juliet laws were put on the books is due to the fact that consensual sex could take place between people when one party was just barely below the legal age limit, which would leave the legal adult with a record that would stunt their abilities in the future in terms of employment, and would also leave their name on the sex offender registry. Certain states will still force the name of the offender to be placed on the sex offender registry, but it will only be there for a limited number of years.

The difference in sentencing between statutory rape and someone convicted under the Romeo and Juliet laws would be the difference between being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The felony charge has many future implications and never leaves a person’s record, whereas the misdemeanor charge can fall off after a certain number of years (which vary by state, but usually between 5–7 years).

In some states, both offenders must be under the age of consent in order for the Romeo and Juliet law to be applied. In certain states, the Romeo and Juliet law will only afford the person charged with the offence the opportunity to keep their name off the sex offender register, but will not allow them to avoid the charge of statutory rape. Other states allow a full exclusion for both the charges, which would categorize the charge as a misdemeanor.

In most states, the idea that a person might not know the age of the person who was underage due to misrepresentation or omission by the underage person is reason to allow a person to be charged under the Romeo and Juliet laws, rather than more stringent felony statutory rape charges. In certain states, the age difference between parties must not be more than five years for the application of the Romeo and Juliet law.

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