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Does California Have a Romeo & Juliet Law?

Why Some States Allow for an Exception to Statutory Rape Laws

Among Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, Romeo and Juliet is a story about two teenagers who fall in love despite their relationship being forbidden by their families. The name of this play has been adopted to describe legislation across the United States that allows some exceptions to some states’ statutory rape laws. Below are the answers to commonly-asked questions about close-in-age exemptions and California statutory rape laws.

If you have been accused of or charged with a sex crime in California, such as statutory rape, we strongly encourage you to speak with a Placer County criminal defense lawyer, one who is highly experienced with defending clients against these serious charges. At Chastaine Jones, our Gold River criminal defense attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights and best interests of individuals accused of a sex crime. For strong legal representation when it matters most, contact us for a confidential consultation.

What Is a Romeo and Juliet Law?

Romeo and Juliet laws provide that, under certain circumstances, an individual can lawfully have consensual sex with a minor. If available in your state, these laws provide an exception to statutory rape laws. The circumstances to which these laws apply vary from state to state but ultimately protect the adult from being charged and/or convicted of a sex crime.

Is There a Romeo and Juliet Law in California?

No. California currently does not have a Romeo and Juliet law. In fact, only 30 states in the U.S. currently offer a close-to-age exemption. 

What is California’s Age of Consent?

“Age of consent” refers to the age at which an individual can legally consent to sexual intercourse. If one of the parties is above the age of consent and the other is below the age of consent, it is, in most cases, considered statutory rape. In California, the age of consent is 18. This means that anyone who is 17 years old or under cannot legally engage in sexual intercourse.

What Does California Consider Statutory Rape?

Under California Penal Code 261.5, any act of sexual intercourse between a person above the age of consent and one who is under the age of consent is considered statutory rape. California’s statutory rape laws make it illegal for any person to engage in sexual intercourse when the other person is:

  • Under 18 years old and not their spouse
  • Not more than three years older than they are
  • More than three years younger than they are

It is also considered statutory rape or “unlawful sex with a minor” if the perpetrator is 21 or older and the minor is under the age of 16 or in cases where both parties are under the age of 18.

Is Statutory Rape a Misdemeanor or Felony in California?

Statutory rape in California is what is known as a “wobbler charge,” which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The circumstances of the case will ultimately determine how it is charged. The offense is more likely to be charged as a misdemeanor if the parties involved are close in age. However, a person will typically be charged with a felony if the victim is very young, such as a child under the age of 12.

What Is the Penalty for Statutory Rape in California?

As previously stated, statutory rape is a wobbler charge in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Penalties for a misdemeanor unlawful sex with a minor conviction can include up to one year in county jail. Felony statutory rape convictions in California typically carry 16 months to three years in jail. However, in cases where the perpetrator was 21 years old or over, and the victim was under the age of 16, a conviction can carry up to four years in jail.

What is California’s Statute of Limitations for Statutory Rape?

It depends on whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony. For misdemeanor cases, charges must be filed within one year, whereas charges must be filed within three years in felony cases. Note that these timelines only apply to statutory rape charges. Other sex crimes, such as child pornography or child molestation, carry their own statutes of limitations.

Speak with a Sex Crimes Lawyer in Sacramento County

Arguably, few accusations are more serious than sexual conduct involving a minor. A statutory rape or other sex crime conviction can result in severe penalties, which can forever change your life and greatly impact your reputation. If you or someone you love has been accused of statutory rape, an experienced sex crime attorney can help. They can thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the allegation and create a strong, compelling defense at trial.

If you or someone you know has been accused of unlawful sex with a minor, contact the Placer County criminal defense attorneys at Chastaine Jones. As experienced sex crimes lawyers, we understand just how frightening and overwhelming it can be to be accused of a sex crime. Being immediately ostracized from family, friends, and your community can be devastating. But we want you to know we are here for you as your advocate and guide. Contact our Gold River sex crimes lawyers today to arrange a confidential, no-obligation consultation.

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