Romeo and Juliet law is a clause added to statutory rape laws of America to eliminate or decrease the punishment that could be levied upon a young adult and teen (minor) indulging in sexual intercourse. This law helps make the distinction between statutory rape and child molestation. The legal age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16, 17, or 18 years – those younger are considered minors. The number may be different across various states.   

Not all American states have this law in place. They instead bring down the consenting age. For instance, the age of consent in California is 18 years; whereas in other states such as Alabama, Missouri, etc. the minimum age to legally give sexual consent is 16 years. And in most states, the Romeo and Juliet law may not protect same-gender sex offences. Therefore, there are groups who criticise the law for being discriminatory towards lesbians, gays, transgenders and bisexuals.

The Romeo and Juliet law varies across different American states and addresses the statutory rape situation when the age difference between the two consenting individuals – one of them being a minor – is not much (usually not more than five years). In addition to the stipulation that the act of sex should have been consensual, the offending individual (the older partner) must also not have any history of sex offense convictions. And in most states, the victim shouldn’t be less than 14 years of age.

Origin

Before the law ever existed, even young adults who committed statutory rape were charged with a felony offence. The legal system later realized there is a difference between a 17-year or 18-year-old boy having sex with a 14-year old minor and a man in his late 20s and 30s having sex with the minor, with or without consent.

If the sex between the 18-year-old boy and the minor girl was consensual, it’s really not fair to punish the boy severely and view him like a matured sex offender, since the boy is still fairly young and doesn’t possess the maturity levels of a grown adult. This the reason why, post some good amount of lobbying, the United States introduced the Rome and Juliet law.

Punishment

As aforementioned, individuals who come under the purview of the Rome and Juliet law could have their punishment reduced, which includes:

  • Charges of misdemeanor instead of a felony
  • Decreased penalties for charges
  • Shorter prison sentences – typically reduced from 10-20 years to 1-4 years, based on the crime’s severity
  • Letting the defendant (the perpetrator) having his/her criminal record erased post serving the sentence
  • Eliminating the need to register the perpetrator as a sex offender, or decreasing the period he/she must stay on the registry of sex offenders