Types of FeloniesViolent Crimes

Romeo & Juliet Law: Age of Sexual Consent Exemptions Explained

It’s a given that it’s illegal to have any type of sexual relations with a minor, but age of consent laws aren’t as cut and dry as they sound. Questions remain, such as what the age of consent is, and there are some gray areas in some states regarding specific situations. These states, as well as the federal government, have worked into the law certain exemptions, particularly regarding the difference in age between the victim and perpetrator. However, not all states have these exemptions, so it’s essential to know the laws for your state.

What Is the Age of Consent?

The age of consent is the legal age someone must be in order to consent to sexual acts. This age will vary based on the state, circumstances, age difference, and various other factors. Anyone under this age is not legally capable of consenting to sexual activities, and therefore, breaking this law can result in statutory rape charges – although this term isn’t often used by most states anymore.

On a federal level, the age of consent is set by 18 U.S. Code § 2243, which defines sexual abuse of a child. The legal age set by this statute is 18. However, it does come with an exception: The younger individual, between the ages of 12-16, must be more than four years younger than the other. Anyone younger than 12 doesn’t apply to this exception. This exception is often called the Romeo and Juliet law.

What Is the Romeo and Juliet Law?

This is an exception to an age of consent law that allows for individuals with a certain age difference to legally engage in sexual activities together. The age difference is likely to be one where only teenagers and young adults are involved, not large age gaps. Not all states have this exception, however. Many see it as a protection to teenagers who are close in age but would receive child abuse charges if there were no exceptions.

Examples of States with Age of Consent Law Exemptions

Not all states have a Romeo and Juliet law, and some have differences varying from completely decriminalizing some cases of statutory rape to simply decreasing charges against the defendant. The following states have all decriminalized sexual contact between minors of a certain age difference.

Alabama

Age of Consent: 16

Alabama’s Romeo and Juliet law allows for anyone between the ages of 12-16 to engage in sexual intercourse with anyone within a two year age difference, as long as they’re above the age of 12. The other exception is if the minor and defendant are married and had consensual sexual activities. Their age of consent laws are as follows:

  • First degree rape: When the defendant, at least 16 years old, has intercourse with a minor under the age of 12, this class A felony comes with ten to 99 years in prison and a possible fine of $60,000.
  • Second degree rape: When the defendant, at least 16 years old and over two years older than the victim, has intercourse with a minor that is 12 to 15 years old, this class B felony comes with two to 20 years in prison and a possible fine of $60,000.
  • Sexual abuse of a child younger than 12 years old: When the defendant, at least 16 years old, sexually touches a minor under the age of 12, this class B felony comes with two to 20 years in prison and a possible fine of $30,000.
  • Second degree sexual abuse: When the defendant, at least 19 years old and over two years older than the victim, sexually touches a minor that is 12 to 15 years old, this class A misdemeanor comes with up to a year in jail and a possible fine of $6,000. When the defendant, at least 15 years older than the victim, sexually touches a minor that is 12 to 15 years old, this Class C felony comes with a year to ten years in prison and a possible fine of $15,000.

Alaska

Age of Consent: 16

The Romeo and Juliet law in Alaska applies to those participating in sexual activity with a less than four year age difference if the youngest is 13 or older, as well as minors 12 years and younger if the age difference is less than three years. They also have the marital exception. As far as their age of consent laws, they have the following:

  • Sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree: When a defendant that is 16 or older has sexual intercourse with a minor 12 or younger, it’s an unclassified felony with a prison sentence of 25 to 35 years and a possible fine of up to $500,000.
  • Sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree: This includes: when a defendant that is 17 or older has sexual intercourse with a minor ages 13-15 with a four or more year age difference; when a defendant that is 16 or older has only sexual contact with a minor younger than 13; and when a defendant that is younger than 16 has sexual intercourse with a minor younger than 13 with less than a three year age difference. It comes with a class B felony charge, which is five to 15 years in prison, an up to $1,000 fine, or both.
  • Sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree: When the defendant is at least 17 and the victim is 13 to 15 but not more than four years younger than the defendant, it’s a class C felony with up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $50,000.
  • Sexual abuse of a minor in the fourth degree: When only sexual contact occurs and the defendant is younger than 16 and three or more years older than the victim, who is 12 or younger, it is a class A misdemeanor.

Colorado

Age of Consent: 15

The Romeo and Juliet Law for Colorado is for minors under 15 years old with less than a four years’ age difference, as well as minors 15 to 16 that are less than ten years younger than the defendant. The marital exception applies here also. Outside of these exceptions, the law is:

  • Sexual assault, sexual assault on a child: Sexual contact of any kind between a victim under 15 years old and a defendant four or more years older is a class 4 felony, which is punishable by two to six years in prison and a fine of $2,000-$50,0000. Only in cases of sexual penetration, when the victim is 15 to 16 and the defendant is at least ten years older, it’s a class 1 misdemeanor and considered an extraordinary risk crime with six to 24 months in prison and a possible $500-$5,000 fine.

Connecticut

Age of Consent: 16

Connecticut’s Romeo and Juliet law applies when the victim is younger than 13 and over two years younger than the defendant or 13 to 15 and over three years younger than the defendant. Their marriage exception also includes a couple that is simply cohabitating and not legally married. Their child sexual assault laws include:

  • First degree sexual assault: This is the charge when the victim is 12 or younger and over two years younger than the defendant. This class A felony comes with a ten to 25 year prison sentence and a possible fine of up to $20,000.
  • Second degree sexual assault: When the victim is 13 to 15 years old and over three years younger than the defendant, it’s a class B felony and is punishable with with a prison sentence of one to 20 years and possibly an up to $15,000 fine.
  • Fourth degree sexual assault: For sexual contact, not intercourse, when the Romeo and Juliet law doesn’t apply, it’s a class D felony, bringing up to five years in prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine.

Mississippi

Age of Consent: 17

In Mississippi, the Romeo and Juliet law decriminalized sexual intercourse between those ages 14 to 17 with less than three years’ age difference and those under 14 with less than two years’ age difference, and they also have the marital exception. They classify statutory rape as:

  • Statutory rape: This includes when sexual intercourse occurs between a defendant who is 17 or older and a victim who is 14 to 15 with less than three years’ age difference or a victim who is under 14 with less than two years’ age difference. If the defendant is 18 to 20, they can receive up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both. If they’re 21 and over, it can be up to 30 years and a $10,000 fine.
  • Sexual battery: When it involves sexual contact, not intercourse, it’s sexual battery when the victim is 14 to 15 and the defendant is less than three years older than the victim or the victim is under 14 and less than two years younger.

New Jersey

Age of Consent: 16

Their Romeo and Juliet law protects minors that are at least 13 years old and less than four years younger than the other individual. New Jersey has outlawed all child marriages, so they do not have a marriage exemption to their age of consent laws. Their other laws involving statutory rape include:

  • Aggravated sexual assault: When the victim of sexual penetration is under 13 years old, it’s aggravated assault, which is a first degree crime punishable by 25 years to life in prison and/or a fine of up to $200,000.
  • Sexual assault: When it’s strictly sexual contact, the victim is under 13 years old, and the defendant is at least four years older, it’s considered sexual assault. This also includes sexual penetration between a victim ages 13 to 15 years old with a defendant at least four years older. This second degree crime comes with at least 15 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $150,000.
  • Criminal sexual contact: This is obviously only for sexual contact, not penetration, and involves a victim ages 13 to 15 and a defendant at least four years older. It’s a fourth degree crime with up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Tennessee

Age of Consent: 18

Tennessee’s Romeo and Juliet law allows minors ages 13 to 14 to have sexual relations with those under four years older than themselves, as well as minors ages 15 to 17 with those under five years older. As Tennessee has also outlawed all child marriages that are outside of these age ranges, there is no need for a marriage exemption. Their other laws include:

  • Rape of a child: When the victim is under 13 years old, it’s a class A felony, which comes with 15 to 60 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $50,000.
  • Aggravated sexual battery: This class B felony only involves sexual contact with a victim under 13 year old. It’s punishable with eight to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.
  • Statutory rape: There are three levels of statutory rape in Tennessee. A charge of statutory rape involves sexual intercourse between a victim ages 13 to 14 and a defendant four to nine years older, as well as a victim ages 14 to 17 and a defendant five to nine years older. The highest charge is aggravated statutory rape, which is when the the victim is 13 to 17 and the defendant is at least ten years older. The least serious charge, mitigated statutory rape, is when the victim is 15 to 17 and the defendant is four years older – but not any older. Statutory rape and mitigated statutory rape are class E felonies, so their penalties include one to six years in prison and possibly up to a $3,000 fine. Aggravated statutory rape is a class D felony, and it comes with two to 12 years and/or up to a $5,000 fine.

Texas

Age of Consent: 17

When the defendant is three or less years younger than a minor who is 14 to 17 years old, the Romeo and Juliet law will apply in Texas. However, this doesn’t apply to same-sex couples. They do also have the marital exception though. Their laws are:

  • Aggravated sexual assault: It’s a first degree felony for anyone to have sexual intercourse with a minor under 14 years old. It comes with five to 99 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Sexual assault: If the defendant is 17 or older and more than three years older than the victim, it’s a second degree felony, which has the penalty of two to 20 years in prison and/or an up to $10,000 fine.
  • Indecency with a child: When it’s only sexual contact and the defendant is younger than 17 but more than three years older than the victim, it’s also a second degree felony.

Washington

Age of Consent: 16

Washington’s Romeo and Juliet law provides different levels of exceptions. It covers a minor that is under 12 years old and another minor no more than two years older than the younger if it’s intercourse and three years older if it’s only contact. If the minor is 12 to 13 years old, then the other minor must not be more than three years older if it’s intercourse or four years older if it’s only contact. If there are four or less years between the two, the youngest must 14 to 15. Washington also has the marital exception. Their consent laws include:

  • First degree rape of a child, first degree child molestation: These class A felonies are used when the victim is under 12 years old and two or more years younger than the defendant. They’re punishable with up to life in prison and a $50,000 fine.
  • Second degree rape of a child, second degree child molestation: When the minor is 12 to 13 and three or more years younger, it’s also a class A felony.
  • Third degree rape of a child, third degree child molestation: If the defendant is four or more years older than the victim, who is 14 to 15, it’s a class C felony with up to five years and $10,000.

What Penalties Come with Statutory Rape?

On a federal level, sexual abuse of a minor comes with up to 15 years in prison and a possible fine. On a state level, the penalty is going to vary greatly depending on that state’s laws. Additionally, there are many other factors that can affect the severity of a punishment. Some of these include:

  • The age of the minor
  • The age difference between the minor and defendant
  • If the defendant was in a place of authority over the minor or responsible for their protection
  • If the minor and defendant are from the same household
  • The defendant’s criminal history
  • If force, violence, a weapon, threats, etc., are involved and to what extent
  • The frequency of the abuse
  • If penetration of any kind occurred
  • If the victim sustained injuries
  • The number of attackers
  • If victim was under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Kidnapping or some other crime also occurred

Penalties for statutory rape often include the expected prison sentence, fine, probation, community service, and participation in various other programs. However, violating age of consent laws come with a variety of other punishments as well, such as:

  • Sex offender registration
  • Prison without chance of probation, or only after a certain portion of the sentence has been served
  • Castration (in some states)
  • Death sentence (in extreme circumstances, usually the death of the victim)

Why Do States Have the Romeo and Juliet Law?

The purpose of this law is typically to ensure that minors, who often are interacting consensually with those in their same age group and maturity levels, are not punished with some of these severe penalties reserved for child predators. As some of these penalties include a lifetime on a sex offender registry, a charge of sexual abuse of a child can have detrimental effects on a young person’s life. While many states differ on whether or not this is necessary and, if so, what that age range should be, most states do have some type of Romeo and Juliet law. It’s important to be familiar with these laws to ensure that your relationships are well within the law.

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