Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” Law and What You Need to Know

When it comes to regulations around “consent” in sexual relationships, Florida sex crime laws are both strict and liberating at the same time. While being charged with violating consent laws can place someone directly on the “sex offenders” list with lasting repercussions, the Romeo and Juliet law allows two parties, close enough in age, to consensually participate in a sexual relationship without either being charged with a crime.

Before we delve deeper into the specifics of the Romeo and Juliet Law, a Tampa criminal attorney at The Rickman Law Firm breaks down some other important legislative basics.

Florida’s Age of Consent Laws

The legal age of consent in Florida is 18, which means that it is unlawful to have sexual contact with a minor, as this can lead to statutory rape charges. Whether or not the minor gave their verbal approval or initiated the act is of no significance, because the State considers a minor too young to formally provide consent in any case. 

This means that adults, when charged with statutory rape against minors, cannot use the following defenses in court:

  • That the offender was unaware of the minor’s age
  • That the minor intentionally appeared to be older to mislead the offender
  • That the minor consented to or initiated sexual contact
  • That the minor has participated in sexual activity earlier 

There is a special circumstance, however, which exempts registry as a sex offender in case the age gap is very small. Situations like these are where the “close in age” exemption, or the Romeo and Juliet Law of Florida comes into force.

What is Florida’s Romeo and Juliet Law?

Developed during the 2007 Legislative Session, the Romeo and Juliet Law of Florida was passed in response to growing social anxiety around the classification of consenting teenagers engaged in sexual activity as “sexual offenders” or “sexual predators”. 

The law rids teenagers from lifelong repercussions of the severe stigma and sanctions associated with the designation of an ‘offender’, including limitations on living in certain places, participating in specific school activities, or landing jobs in certain companies. 

The law can be seen as a “close in age” exemption when the case involves minors. Someone who is younger than 24 years old but older than 18 may be protected by the Romeo and Juliet Law in Florida. For the law to be applicable, the following conditions must be met:

  • The perceived victim must be between 14 and 17 years old
  • The offender must not be more than 4 years (1,460 days) older than the victim. Even a single day older in age will render the law inapplicable
  • The perceived victim consented to the sexual activity
  • The offender has not been charged with previous sex crimes

Important Points to Note

A key factor to keep in mind is that the Romeo and Juliet Law of Florida does not legalize sexual activity involving minors. All it does is offer some legal protection strictly to those meeting the above criteria.

Secondly, the protective coverage offered by the law is limited. When invoked in court, the Romeo and Juliet law may prevent someone from having to register themselves as a sex offender and prevent the prosecutor from pressing charges. But as far as sentences and penalties are concerned, all that the law can offer is a reduction, and not complete liberation. Finally, after the offender has served the reduced sentence, their record may be expunged under the law. 

Thirdly, the court has complete discretion over whether to grant or deny a petition under the Florida law. The judge might consider all factors at play and deny the request, following which the defendant will have to wait for at least another 25 years before submitting a petition again. This is why it is important to have a competent Tampa criminal defense attorney by your side when filing under the Romeo and Juliet Law in Florida.

Does the Law Apply to Cases Before 2007?

While the Romeo and Juliet law was formally enacted in 2007, it is equally applicable to incidents that occurred before 2007. Anyone who meets the qualification criteria is eligible to file a petition under the law, irrespective of the year of the case.

Have More Questions about the Romeo and Juliet Law? Contact Us

Considering that eligibility is not the only criteria for winning a case under the Romeo and Juliet Law, it is best advised to take the support and guidance of a successful Tampa criminal attorney at The Rickman Law Firm. We carefully analyze the critical aspects of your case and advise you on best options.

If you have questions about the Romeo and Juliet Law, contact a Tampa criminal defense attorney at The Rickman Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.

 

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

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