A Romeo and Juliet law provides people accused of statutory rape with various defenses and exceptions.
Around half of the states have Romeo and Juliet laws. These states include, for example, Texas and Florida. However, California has no Romeo and Juliet law.
What Is Statutory Rape?
Every state prohibits sexual intercourse with those under a certain age. Statutory rape occurs when a person engages in sexual activity with a minor under a certain age.
A minor in this context is a person who is younger than the legal age of consent. The age of consent varies from 16 to 18 years of age, depending on the state.
California’s age of consent is 18 years of age. This means it is a crime to engage in sexual intercourse with an individual 17 years of age or younger in California.
Statutory Rape in California
In California, statutory rape occurs when a person engages in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18.
Statutory rape in California can also occur when two minors engage in sexual activity.
In other words, a minor can face statutory rape charges for engaging in sexual activity with another minor.
In most cases, the crime is only charged when an adult engages in sexual intercourse with a minor. However, California law does allow the prosecution of a minor for statutory rape.
What Is a Romeo and Juliet Law?
In states with Romeo and Juliet laws, the law provides exceptions or defenses to a statutory rape charge.
Typically, Romeo and Juliet laws apply when the accused and the victim are close in age. For this reason, these laws are often called “close-in-age exceptions.”
In states with Romeo and Juliet laws, the law may provide several protections for the defendant. These protections can include:
- Dropping the statutory rape charges,
- Eliminating mandatory sex-offender registration,
- Reducing the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor offense,
- Reducing the penalties applied for a statutory rape conviction, and
- Allowing the defendant to seek an expungement.
The effect of a Romeo and Juliet law varies from state to state.
For example, in Florida, the Romeo and Juliet law allows a person convicted of statutory rape to avoid mandatory sex-offender registration.
In contrast, Texas’s Romeo and Juliet law protects minors by allowing minors to avoid mandatory sex-offender registration.
Texas also prevents the prosecution of minors in certain circumstances.
Romeo and Juliet Law in California
While not really a Romeo and Juliet law, California law does look to the age of the accused and the victim in classifying the offense and assigning the penalties.
When the accused and the victim are closer in age, the penalties for statutory rape can be less severe.
For example, statutory rape is classified as a misdemeanor if the victim is three years younger than the accused or less.
In comparison, when the victim is more than three years younger than the accused, the crime can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor.
Why is this California law not considered a Romeo and Juliet law?
Romeo and Juliet laws are exceptions to a state’s statutory rape laws that are available in certain circumstances.
The California law is not a Romeo and Juliet law because it is not an exception to the law; rather, it simply is the law that is applied in all circumstances.
When Does a Romeo and Juliet Law in California Apply?
States with Romeo and Juliet laws have specific requirements for a defendant to be eligible to raise the exceptions.
Each state’s law will describe particular criteria that must be present before a Romeo and Juliet law will apply.
In Florida, for example, the Romeo and Juliet law applies only when:
- The victim was between 14 and 17 years of age;
- The victim was no more than four years younger than the defendant;
- The victim willingly participated in the sexual activity; and
- The defendant does not have any prior sex-offense convictions.
If the above criteria are met, the defendant can petition for removal from the Florida sex-offender registry.
Defenses to Statutory Rape in California
Although there is no Romeo and Juliet law in California, other defenses may be available to a person accused of statutory rape.
To discuss your case and defense options, contact a reputable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Mistake of Age
Mistake of age might be a defense to statutory rape if the defendant actually and reasonably believed that the minor was over 18 years of age.
A person accused of statutory rape can assert that there was no sexual intercourse between the defendant and the victim as a defense to a statutory rape charge.
If the defendant did not engage in sexual activity with a minor, there is no crime of statutory rape.
California is one state in which statutory rape does not apply to married spouses.
In other words, a person cannot be charged with engaging in sexual activity with a minor when the two are married.
Consent Is Not a Defense
Unlike a rape charge, consent is not a defense to statutory rape in California.
Statutory rape is based on the belief that individuals younger than the legal age of consent cannot give valid consent to sexual activity.
Therefore, consent will not work as a defense to a statutory rape charge even if the minor attempted to give consent.
Questions About Romeo and Juliet Laws in California?
Although there is no Romeo and Juliet law in California, a criminal defense lawyer can help you develop a defense to statutory rape.
If you are facing a statutory rape charge in California, you need an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer to protect your rights and freedom.
At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, our lawyers are seasoned in the sex-crimes defense.
We are dedicated to achieving the most favorable outcome for each of our clients. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.