What Is a Romeo and Juliet Law?
Statutory rape laws are intended to punish adults who engage in sexual conduct with minors. In recent decades many states across the country have re-written their statutory rape laws and/or added a defense to address situations where the individuals involved are close in age and the sexual conduct was consensual – even if not legally consensual. These new laws have come to be called “Romeo and Juliet” laws after the star-crossed Shakespearean lovers. California does not have a Romeo and Juliet law.
History of Sexual Conduct and Consent
In the past, it was not uncommon for people to marry much younger than today. In the year 1900, the median age of marriage for a woman was 20 and the median age of marriage for a man was 24. However, by 2010, the median age of marriage for a woman increased to 27 and the median age of marriage for a man increased to 28.5.
Many women were already married by the time they reached the age of 20 a century ago. Some common reasons for marrying young were:
- Life expectancy – In 1900, a woman’s life expectancy was just under 50 years. By the year 2000, a woman’s life expectancy grew to over 80 years.
- Education – Unlike today, most people did not continue their education through college and graduate school. Instead, people started working earlier in life.
- Need for labor – Children were often needed to help work a family farm or business.
Early marriage meant it was considered normal to have sex at a younger age.
Changing Societal Norms
Societal norms changed throughout the 21st century. Life expectancy grew. It became more common to continue education beyond school. Industrialization meant less need to work a farm. States began to enact laws setting the age of majority. The age of majority applies to things like voting, ability to enter into contracts, and consent to sexual relations.
Today the age of consent ranges from 16 to 18 years old . In California the age of consent is 18. Anyone under the age of 18 is not legally able to give consent to engage in sexual relations. From a legal perspective, it does not matter that teenagers under the age of 18 do have sex willingly – the law says they are unable to give consent. Sex without consent is a criminal offense.
Just to be clear, if you are over the age of 18 and you have sex with someone under the age of 18 you are committing a crime in the state of California. The severity of the offense depends on:
- The victim’s age
- The perpetrator’s age
- Difference in age between the perpetrator and the victim
Offenses and Penalties
Sex with a minor who is not three years older or younger than the perpetrator is a misdemeanor. Sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator is either a misdemeanor or a felony punishable by up to a year in jail or prison. Sexual intercourse between a perpetrator 21 years or older and a victim is under 16 years old is a misdemeanor or felony punishable by up to four years in prison. If the victim is age 13 or younger, or the victim is 14 or 15 and the perpetrator is at least ten years older than the victim, the potential penalties increase dramatically.
Civil penalties ranging from $2,000 to $25,000 may also be imposed.
Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge
A conviction for a sex offense can devastate an individual. Over time, states have come to realize that some laws are unfair.
Often, a defendant is convicted of having sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend. In many cases, the difference in age is minimal (ie: perpetrator is 19 and victim is 17). Frequently, the defendant thought the sex was consensual. The “victim” may even have initiated the conduct. Romeo and Juliet laws provide reduced penalties or defense in these situations.
Although California does not have a Romeo and Juliet law, there are some defenses to a charge of sex with a minor or a statutory rape charge:
- No sexual conduct took place
- Marriage – If you are married the age of consent does not apply
- Mistake of age – You thought the victim was beyond age of consent and a reasonable person would also have believed the same
- Minimal age difference – Not actually a defense but lesser penalties
- Agreement – Again, just because the victim agreed to the sexual conduct does not mean he or she was legally able to consent, but it may sway a judge or jury to acquit or lower the penalty if convicted
Sex Offender Registration
If you are convicted of a sex crime in California, you may be required to register as a sex offender. Sex offender registration carries a stigma. Registered sex offenders may experience difficulties in finding employment and housing. Sex offender registration may also interfere with visitation with minor children.
Not all convictions for sex with a minor offenses require registration as a sex offender in California. However, if you receive a conviction, you may be required to register if you move to another state.
More About Statutory Rape Charges in California
For more information about statutory rape charges in San Diego and the state of California, the following related resources are available for your review:
- What Is a Romeo and Juliet Law and Does California Have One?
- Statutory Rape and Romeo and Juliet Laws in California
If you or a dependent has been charged with statutory rape in California, it is essential that you consult with an experienced California defense attorney as soon as possible to determine what defenses might be available in your case.