Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet a literary classic. It describes the tragic tale of two teenagers that fall in love while navigating through their feuding families. This play has relevance in some laws throughout the United States, as Romeo and Juliet laws have been adopted in some states as exceptions to statutory rape laws. Though California is not one of those states, it is still pertinent to understand what the circumstances are around these situations.
Statutory Rape Laws
California law defines statutory rape as an act of sexual intercourse completed with a person who is not married to the perpetrator and if the person is below the age of consent (under the age of 18). Under Penal Code 261.5 PC, statutory rape occurs when a person has unlawful sexual intercourse with:
- Someone under the age of 18 who is not their spouse
- Someone not more than three years younger than them
- Someone more than three years younger than them
Statutory rape also applies if the perpetrator is 21 years old or older and the victim is someone under 16 years of age. These laws are not characterized by force against the victim nor by the consent of the victim but by the age of the victim.
Because the age of the victim matters in California law and not the age of the perpetrator, these laws will apply to anyone who engages in sexual intercourse with a minor, even another minor. This means that two individuals under the age of 18 can both be charged with statutory rape — the only exception is if the parties are married to each other. Ultimately, anyone under the age of 18 cannot consent to sexual intercourse unless the involved parties are married to one another.
Statutory rape in California is a wobbler offense. It can be considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case. A misdemeanor can be punishable with up to 364 days in jail, and a felony conviction carries a prison sentence of up to three years.
Romeo and Juliet Laws
Some states have created exceptions to their statutory rape laws to protect individuals from these laws in certain circumstances. Romeo and Juliet laws are an affirmative defense, meaning it protects certain individuals from being charged with a sex crime. An individual will not be charged with breaking these laws. If the individual is not able to meet the requirements for this defense, they may be charged with statutory rape.
Essentially, these laws allow two minors or an adult and a minor close in age to have sexual intercourse with each other. For example, the age of consent in Texas is 17. Statutory rape laws would criminalize anyone who had sex with an individual under the age of 17. The Romeo and Juliet laws allow for anyone between the ages of 14 and 17 to give consent to engage in sexual intercourse with another person within three years of their age. This means that a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old are legally able to engage in intercourse without penalty. The same applies to a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old.
Q: What Exactly Is a Romeo and Juliet Law?
A: Statutory rape laws were created to protect minors from predators who would attempt to have sexual relationships with them. Romeo and Juliet laws are statutes that provide exceptions to statutory rape laws in the event of a consensual relationship where both parties are minors or one of the parties involved is a minor, and the other person is close in age. Each state has its own set of rules within the law. It protects the non-minor from being arrested and facing criminal charges.
Q: What Is the Age of Consent in CA in 2023?
A: Age of consent is a legal term that dictates the age at which a person can consent to sexual intercourse. If an individual above the age of consent has sexual intercourse with a person below the age of consent, it is typically considered statutory rape. The age of consent in California is 18 years old, making it illegal for anyone aged 17 or less to engage in sexual activity.
Q: Is It Legal for a 15-Year-Old and an 18-Year-Old to Date in California?
A: The legality of this situation lies in what the individuals consider dating. It is not illegal for a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old to do things like hold hands, go to a movie, or attend a school dance together. If the relationship escalates to include any sexual contact, even if it is consensual, it is illegal. However, false accusations can arise in these situations, putting the 18-year-old at serious risk of a statutory rape conviction.
Q: Are All Romeo and Juliet Laws the Same?
A: There are currently 30 states with Romeo and Juliet laws. Though these laws are similar throughout these states, there are important differences. For example, both Texas and Michigan have Romeo and Juliet laws. Texas applies a 3-year age gap for those between the ages of 14 and 17, where all sexual intercourse is allowed. Michigan allows a 4-year age gap for those between the ages of 12 and 16, where sexual contact is allowed but not penetration.
Q: Is Statutory Rape a Misdemeanor or a Felony in California?
A: Statutory rape is a wobbler charge in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The exact circumstances of the case will determine how it is charged. Aggravating factors like an age gap larger than three years can result in the charge being escalated to a felony level.
Statutory Rape Defense Attorney
California laws regarding statutory rape are extremely strict, with no room for exceptions. If you are facing these charges, it is imperative that you speak with an attorney who is experienced with defending clients in your situation. The consequences of a statutory rape conviction can be severe, including being placed on the sex offender’s registry. The responsibility to prove your guilt rests on the state, so pleading guilty may not be your only option. Reach out to The Law Office of Jacqueline Goodman for a consult with a passionate criminal defense attorney who has the skill and knowledge to aggressively fight for your rights throughout the entire legal process.