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Does California Have a Romeo and Juliet Law?

November 6, 2019

The age of consent is 18 years old in California

Does California Have a Romeo and Juliet Law?

Despite the tragic end of the story, Romeo and Juliet are somehow considered romantic figures in literature. Their names are also used for an exception in statutory rape laws in many states. While statutory rape laws prohibit sexual activity with minors under a certain age, stating that they are unable to consent, these “Romeo and Juliet” laws allow minors to engage in sex with each other, as long as they are close in age.

In Pennsylvania, for example, sexual contact between adults (people aged 18 and older) and minors (people aged 16 and younger) is prohibited. However, there is a “Romeo and Juliet” law that allows minors who are 13 years or older to engage in sexual conduct with a person who is less than 4 years older. Under this exception, consensual sex between a 15 year old and an 18 year old would be legal, as would consensual sex between a 14 year old and a 17 year old.

There is no such exception in California. As a criminal defense attorney San Bernardino, CA can explain, it is illegal for any person to have sexual contact with a minor — even another minor. In California, the age of consent is 18 years. Statutory rape is unlawful sexual intercourse that occurs when a person engages in consensual sex with a minor.

However, there are some distinctions in California’s statutory rape law based on the age of the person involved. If the person engages in sexual intercourse with a minor who is:

  • Less than 3 years younger (or older) than they are, they may be charged with a misdemeanor offense.
  • More than 3 years younger than they are, they may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony offense.
  • Under 16 when they are 21 or older, they may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

Under California law, there are only two possible defenses to a statutory rape charge. First, a criminal defense attorney San Bernardino, CA could argue that no sexual intercourse occurred. Second, your lawyer could argue that you had an honest belief that the minor in question was 18 years of age or older.

Depending on the age of the victim, unlawful sexual intercourse (statutory rape) will be punished by jail time and/or a fine. If the victim is no more than 3 years younger or older than the perpetrator, the offense is a misdemeanor. The potential penalty is up to 6 months in county jail and a $2,000 fine. If the victim is more than 3 years younger, then the crime may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor may result in one year in jail, while a felony could lead to a 3 year jail term. Both offenses may result in a $10,000 fine.

If a person aged 21 or older engages in sexual intercourse with a minor under the age of 16, they may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If it is charged as a misdemeanor, they could be sentenced to 1 year in jail and a $25,000 fine. If it is a felony, then they may be required to pay the same fine and be sentenced to 4 years in jail.

Statutory rape charges are serious offenses in California, requiring careful handling — particularly because defenses to this type of charge are so limited. If you have been charged with statutory rape, the Chambers Law Firm can help. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a criminal defense attorney San Bernardino, CA.

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