Romeo and Juliet laws apply to cases of statutory rape when both members engaging in consensual sexual intercourse are teenage (13-19). Romeo and Juliet laws generally stipulate a certain age gap between the older alleged offender and the younger alleged victim. The specific age gap varies from state to state. Romeo and Juliet laws do not prevent a teenage statutory rapist from facing criminal allegations of breaking statutory rape laws. Statutory rape laws are notorious for convicting and subsequently ruining the lives of otherwise model teenagers with slightly younger sex partners.
Convicts of statutory rape, in most states, must register as a sex offender. Sex offender registration ruins any possibility of these teenage citizen’s chances of advancing their lives for a sex crime that did not, in any manner, involve the use of force. Statutory rape laws are designed to protect naive teenagers from being taken advantage of sexually by older people who use their advanced age and authority to get their way. Many states did not originally have statutory rape legislation that had special discretion for cases involving teenagers who are not much older than each other.
Most Romeo and Juliet laws provide defendants with an affirmative defense against their charges. An affirmative defense means that the defendant’s lawyer can submit the small difference of age between the two consenting peers as evidence against the state’s case against the defendant. Romeo and Juliet laws also provide for lesser sentences for statutory rape defendants. Some states downgrade charges from felony status to misdemeanor. Some Romeo and Juliet laws make exception of requiring teenagers convicted of statutory rape to register as sex offenders.
Romeo and Juliet laws are a means of justifying the existence of statutory rape laws with the much needed judicial discretion necessary to make the laws more equitable. Opponents of Romeo and Juliet laws argue that the provisions do not go far enough in making the laws more equitable. They are that on principle to incarcerate a teenage statutory rape offender at all.
Some argue that the very premise of a statutory rape law constitutes a victimless crime because there is not initiation of force involved in the sex crime like most other sex crimes. Romeo and Juliet laws are essentially a compromise between the two sides of the statutory rape debate. Romeo and Juliet laws generally do not apply to homosexuals; leaving them vulnerable to being charged with harsher penalties for a similar act and circumstances that a heterosexual couple would do. Opponents of this aspect of Romeo and Juliet legislation allege that the law is too discriminatory to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-gender people.