What are Romeo and Juliet laws?
UPDATED: June 19, 2018
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Romeo and Juliet laws and clauses concern young adults or teenagers who are a few years apart and have willingly had sexual relations. These provisions relate to state and federal laws regarding statutory rape or sexual assault. The term statutory rape is rarely used today, and refers to a sexual act involving one or more individuals under the age of consent. The age of consent varies between jurisdictions. Romeo and Juliet provisions concern incidents in which the younger of the individuals has passed the age of puberty. An incident in which the younger of the individuals has not passed the age of puberty is typically defined as sexual assault on a child.
Purpose of Romeo and Juliet Laws
The purpose of Romeo and Juliet provisions is to prevent a sexual act that occurred between individuals with a few years age difference from being considered a criminal offense. Alternatively, Romeo and Juliet provisions lessen the severity of penalties for such an offense. Romeo and Juliet provisions vary considerably. The age range allowed by a Romeo and Juliet provision is typically between two and four years. In some states, a Romeo and Juliet provision can only apply if the younger of the individuals has reached a certain age, such as 15. The state may also require the older of the individuals to be under a certain age, such as 21.
Romeo and Juliet provisions typically do not protect an older individual accused of abusing a relationship that involves the imposition of authority over a younger person. Such a relationship exists between a teacher and his student or a coach and an athlete on his team. Romeo and Juliet provisions also typically do not apply to individuals accused of sexual acts that involve violence or threat of violence.
Advantage of Romeo and Juliet Laws
One of the most significant protections a Romeo and Juliet provision can offer is a guarantee that a convicted individual will not have to register as a sex offender. A Romeo and Juliet provision can also decrease the time that a convicted individual has to remain on a sex offender registry. In certain situations, the convicted individual may become eligible to have his name removed early. Generally, when a Romeo and Juliet provision becomes law, a convicted individual can petition the pertinent court or prosecutor to be removed from the state’s sex offender registry roll. A convicted individual typically does not automatically get removed from the roll.
Advocates of the provisions argue that removing qualifying individuals allows states to better determine which individuals should be heavily regulated. Many states limit the rights of convicted individuals to reside in certain neighborhoods or access public spaces popular among children, such as parks. Advocates also argue that removing qualifying individuals helps states compile more accurate data about individuals in need of rehabilitative services. The status of sex offender is a significant bar to employment and causes convicted individuals to suffer setbacks in their personal lives.