Perhaps you've heard of Texas' so-called Romeo and Juliet Law and may have wondered:
What is the Romeo and Juliet law? And how does it work?
Like some other states, Texas has enacted this law to protect teenagers who are close in age from facing sex crime charges and convictions when they have consensual sex, even when one or both teens are below the legal age of consent (which, in Texas, is 17). Romeo and Juliet law also protects these teens from having to register as sex offenders.
Therefore, what might be considered statutory rape from one standpoint is instead considered legal given the nature of Texas' Romeo and Juliet law.
The law is so named after the fictional young lovers in the classic William Shakespeare play "Romeo and Juliet." In the play, you may recall that Juliet was 13 years old while Romeo was several years older, though their actual age gap was not specified.
The moral behind the law is that teens who are close in age and have consensual sexual relations should be protected from prosecution and being ostracized from society as if they were child sex offenders. Such punishments are considered unnecessarily harsh given their circumstances.
Texas law protects teens in two main ways.
First, teens can be shielded from prosecution by Texas' Romeo and Juliet law under certain circumstances.
If a teen is accused of sexual assault after having consensual sex with someone close to his or her own age, the teen cannot be prosecuted if:
For instance, the Romeo and Juliet law would shield a teen who is 17 from having consensual sex with a teen who is 14, 15 or 16 — all within the three-year age gap. Or a teen who is 18 would be shielded from prosecution for having consensual sex with a teen who is 15 or 16. Likewise, a teen who is 19 would be shielded from prosecution for having consensual sex with a teen who is 16.
In such cases, the Romeo and Juliet law would overrule Texas standard "age of consent" law, which determines how old a person must be in order to agree legally agree to sexual relations. In Texas, that legal age of consent is 17.
According to Texas law, a person under the age of 17 isn't considered mature enough to have the proper judgment to consent legally to sexual relations. Any person who has sex with a minor, even if it's considered consensual, commits statutory rape — unless Romeo and Juliet law provides exceptions.
Teens also can be shielded from having to register as a sex offender under Romeo and Juliet law. But here, the rules regarding ages and age gaps are different.
Under Texas law, a person convicted of having sex with someone under 17 will NOT be required to register as a sex offender so long as:
This protection from having to register as a sex offender — a serious consequence in itself — doesn't protect someone from prosecution when they have sex with someone below the age of consent (17) and they're more than three years older than the alleged victim. In such a case, the Romeo and Juliet law would not offer protection from prosecution, but only from having to register as a sex offender.
This relatively new law — enacted in 2011 — can also help persons convicted of a sex crime before the law was passed. If eligible under the new law, persons who were required to register as a sex offender before can now petition the court for deregistration.
Before granting deregistration, the court considers the age of the parties involved and if the original act could be deemed consensual. Then, sex offender registration might be negated, with the offender being allowed to deregister.
However, the sex offender cannot have been subsequently convicted of another sex crime and cannot be considered to pose a general risk to the public. Otherwise, deregistration as a sex offender wouldn't be allowed, regardless of the new law.
Also, being allowed to deregister as a sex offender doesn't alter the original conviction. The offender's punishment, such as fines or jail or probation time, would remain.
Keep in mind that a person under 17, whether facing a charge of statutory rape or indecency with a child, likely will have their case presented in juvenile court. There, a judge can use his or her own discretion to determine if a juvenile must register as a sex offender.
One other exception under Texas law is that the three-year age gap rule also applies in cases of indecency with a child — though it only applies when the parties are of the opposite sex (male and female).
When both parties are of the same sex, under current Texas law an age gap of three years or less isn't a legal defense for a charge of indecency with a child. However, a teen who is less than three years older than a minor and is of the opposite sex has the law's protection.
Charging a teen when the offense involves the same sex and not the opposite sex is questionable. Some Texas lawmakers are working to include protections in cases of same-sex offenses under Texas' indecency with a child law.
If a member of your family faces a charge of statutory rape or indecency with a child, despite having less than a three-year ago gap, consult a skilled sex crimes defense lawyer immediately. The Neal Davis Law Firm is committed to fighting for the legal rights of those who should be protected under Texas' Romeo and Juliet laws.
Contact us today for a confidential legal review of your case. We can further explain Texas' laws to you and ensure that your loved one is granted the proper legal protections.