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What is a Romeo and Juliet Law?

A Romeo and Juliet law in Minnesota is a law intended to prevent young people who are involved in a consensual sexual relationship from running afoul of statutory rape laws.  Romeo and Juliet laws prevent behavior between people who are close in age from being considered statutory rape when one of the two members of the couple is under the age of consent.

Understanding Romeo and Juliet Laws

Every state in the United States has an age of consent. When someone is under the age of consent, that person cannot give permission to engage in sexual acts because he or she is considered too young. As such, there is no such thing as consensual sex with someone who is under the age of consent.  When a person under the age of consent OKs sexual behavior but cannot give legal consent, the crime that the adult normally gets charged with is statutory rape.

Unfortunately, under statutory rape laws, consensual relationships with people who were very close in age could become criminalized. For example, in the state of Minnesota, the age of consent is 16. This means that if a 16 year old and a 17-year -old were dating each other and the 17-year-old turned 18, the 18 year old could be arrested for statutory rape.

Romeo and Juliet laws make sure that this doesn’t happen and that statutory rape laws apply only to prevent young people from being taken advantage of by someone much older who could coerce consent.  Romeo and Juliet laws work by setting an age discrepancy that must apply before someone will be arrested for statutory rape.

For example, in Michigan, if the younger person is under the age of 13, the older member of the couple will not be charged with statutory rape unless he or she is at least three years older. If the younger person is between the ages of 13 and 16, the older person will not be charged with statutory rape unless he or she is at least four years older.

Under the Romeo and Juliet law, therefore, a 15-year-old could engage in sexual acts with a 13 year old and not be guilty of statutory rape, but a 17-year-old could not.

Statutory rape laws do not exist in all states and where they do not exist, those who are in consensual relationships with one member under age need to be very careful not to run afoul of criminal laws.  Statutory rape is a strict liability claim, so a person can be charged with the crime even if he or she was not aware that the sex partner was under age.

Statutory rape is also a serious crime that can result in jail time and a sex offender classification, so it is important to consult with an experienced criminal law attorney as soon as possible if you have been accused of statutory rape.