Essentially, the Texas Romeo and Juliet law exempts teenagers and young adults who engage in sexual relations with teens under the age of consent from being classified as sex offenders.
The accusation of having sexual relations with a minor is a serious matter. Your rights, future, and freedom are at stake. But the Romeo and Juliet law may apply to your case. We recommend consulting with a criminal defense attorney to see if this law applies to you.
As with any criminal charge, if you or someone you know is accused of having sex with a minor, we recommend discussing your case with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Criminal defense lawyers can potentially reduce or eliminate criminal charges.
Contact our attorneys today to discuss the specifics of your case and potential defenses during a free consultation.
What Is the Texas Age of Consent?
The age of consent is the age when a person may legally consent to engage in sexual activity with another person. If an older person engages in sexual activity with someone under the age of consent, they can be prosecuted for a sex crime even if the contact was consensual. In Texas, once a person becomes 17, they are able to give consent for sexual activity with another person.
What Is Texas’s Version of the Romeo and Juliet Law?
Texas dating laws provide some young adults engaged in consensual sex with teens under 17 protection from prosecution and exempt others from sex-offender registration. They also provide a remedy for those convicted of a sex crime.
Protection from Prosecution
Texas law protects a young adult over the age of 17 from being prosecuted for a sex crime if four conditions are met:
- Both parties consent to sexual relations;
- Neither individual is a registered sex offender;
- The other party is at least 14 years old; and
- There is not more than a three-year age gap between the two individuals.
For example, if an 18-year-old has consensual sexual relations with a 16-year-old, the Romeo and Juliet law protects the 18-year-old from prosecution. But a 20-year-old who has sex with a 16-year-old could be prosecuted because they are more than three years apart in age.
Exemption from Sex-Offender Registration
The Texas Romeo and Juliet law also exempts some additional individuals from having to register as sex offenders. This applies to consensual sexual relations where the other party was at least 15 years old and there was no more than a four-year age gap between the two.
Thus, even though the 20-year-old in our previous example could be prosecuted for a sex crime, they would not be required to register as a sex offender.
Remedy for Those Convicted of a Sex Crime
The Romeo and Juliet law also allows those convicted of a sex crime before the law was passed to ask the court to review their case. Texas law exempts them from having to continue to register as a sex offender if the court finds that:
- The sexual relationship was consensual and
- The offender is not a threat to the public.
If you are registered as a sex offender because of an old statutory rape conviction, you may have a remedy. The criminal defense attorneys at Simer & Tetens can help you determine if the Romeo and Juliet law can help you.
Limitations on the Texas Romeo and Juliet Law
The Romeo and Juliet law in Texas does not make the older party immune from prosecution based on other sex-related crimes based on non-consent. For example, an offender may still be prosecuted for statutory rape if he or she was in a position of authority over the teen. A Texas criminal defense attorney can help you understand the limitations of the Romeo and Juliet law.
Purpose of the Texas Romeo and Juliet Law
The Romeo and Juliet Law was passed in Texas to conform with the majority of Texans’ beliefs. Most Texans strongly believe that adults who engage in sexual activity with young adults under the age of 17 should be aggressively prosecuted.
However, most Texans also believe that teens who are close in age to their sexual partners should not be prosecuted or forced to register as sex offenders. Accordingly, the Romeo and Juliet law in Texas provides relief for a slightly older person who engages in consensual sexual relations with someone close in age.
What If the Adult Believed the Teen Was at or Above the Age of Consent?
An adult who mistakenly believed that the teen was 17 or older cannot raise this argument as a defense. The adult’s belief of the teen’s age is irrelevant; the actual age of the teen is all that matters. No matter what the adult believed, the Romeo and Juliet law will only protect them from prosecution if they fall within the actual three-year age gap.
What Are Some Possible Charges That Could Invoke the Romeo and Juliet Law?
Statutory rape is the most common charge that arises when considering the Romeo and Juliet law. Statutory rape applies when an adult engages in consensual sexual relations with someone below the age of consent.
The Romeo and Juliet Law also applies to charges for indecency with a child, which pertains to sexual touching.
In Texas, an adult may be charged with statutory rape or indecency with a child if he or she engages in consensual sexual contact with a teen under the age of 17.
The purpose of statutory rape laws is to prevent adults from taking advantage of minors who aren’t yet fully aware of the seriousness of the sexual activity. But the Romeo and Juliet law mitigates the harsh results that these laws can sometimes have.
Why Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you or someone you know has been accused of having sexual intercourse with a minor, you need to contact a Texas criminal defense lawyer. The accusation of a sex crime puts your rights, future, and freedom at stake.
Even if your situation meets the requirements for protection under the Texas Romeo and Juliet law, you should still contact a criminal defense lawyer to defend you.
The highly skilled and experienced criminal defense attorneys at Simer & Tetens will defend you on a personal level and ensure that your rights are protected. We understand the seriousness of a sex crime accusation and will fight to keep your future in your control. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.