romeo and juliet law

The Romeo and Juliet Law: Texas Statutory Rape Laws, Penalties and Your Defense Options

One in 5 girls and one in 20 boys experience sexual assault in their lifetime. 

In an era of increased social awareness, with movements like #MeToo, bringing justice to victims is critical. That’s why statutory rape laws were enacted: to protect victims by establishing the age at which they can consent to sex. 

But what about the blurred lines, where age gaps exist in relationships and online dating makes it easier to fake your age? 

That’s where the Romeo and Juliet Law comes in. Here’s how it applies to Texas.

Age of Consent

The age of consent in Texas is 17. This means that anyone in the state over the age of 17 can legally consent to sex.

If you’re an adult and your sexual partner is under 17, it’s considered statutory rape regardless of whether or not your partner consented. This is because, in Texas, anyone under 17 is considered “too young” to consent to sex. 

While statutory rape laws serve an admirable purpose in today’s society, that hasn’t always been the case.

They originated to protect a woman’s virginity before she got married, not necessarily to protect children from sexual abuse. This came from the idea that women who had sex before marriage were “foolish” or “impure.” 

Even though society has progressed to become more sex-positive for women, statutory rape laws are still enforced to protect the most vulnerable victims of sexual abuse. Here’s what can be at stake for the accused. 

Penalties

Adults convicted of statutory rape in Texas could face anywhere between 2 and 20 years in prison, depending on the charge. He or she will also have to register as a sex offender.

Under the Texas constitution and statutes, the penalties for statutory rape include: 

  • Sexual assault: 2-20 years in prison, and/or a $10,000 fine
  • Aggravated sexual assault: Up to life in prison
  • Indecency with a child 
    • By exposure: 2-10 years in prison, 10-year registration as a sex offender, up to $10,000 in fines
    • By contact: 2-20 years in prison, lifetime registration as a sex offender, up to $10,000 in fines
  • Continuous sexual abuse: Minimum of 25 years in prison 
  • Prohibited sexual conduct: 2-10 years in prison, up to $10,000 in fines

The Texas constitution and statutes also provide thorough definitions of each of the above charges. You’ll need these when it comes time to formulate your defense, but more on that later. 

The Romeo and Juliet Law

Even though statutory rape laws aim to protect minors, there are some exceptions in Texas. The Romeo and Juliet Law is one of them. 

If an adult is three years older than a minor they have sex with, then they are exempt from statutory rape laws. This is because it’s common for 15- and 16-year-olds to date people slightly older than them, especially in high school. 

The law is named after William Shakespeare’s famous play, in which Romeo was older than Juliet, but Juliet could still consent to sex because of her age.

However, the exemption in Texas stops at the three-year age difference.

Minors who are 15 and 16 are old enough to understand sex and their ability to consent. But there is no reason for someone in their 20s or older to have sex with a 15 or 16 year old. 

Marital Exceptions 

In addition to The Romeo and Juliet Law, marriage is another exception to Texas statutory rape laws. 

If an adult in Texas is married to a minor, they are exempt from statutory rape laws.

In Texas, anyone who is 18 or older does not need parental consent to get married. However, anyone between the ages of 14 and 18 needs parental consent at least 30 days before getting married.

It’s important to note that while marriage may protect an adult from statutory rape accusations, it does not protect them from marital rape accusations if they use force or coercion on their spouse. 

Legal Defenses: Your Options

Even though the stakes are high in any statutory rape case, that doesn’t mean the case will automatically end with a conviction. The state prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed every part of the charge. 

This is where the Texas constitution and statutes come in. You’ll need to use them to fully understand the definitions of each charge. From there, you might be able to develop a valid defense, such as: 

  • The victim consented.
  • You mistook the victim’s identity.
  • You lacked intent or knowledge.
  • You are innocent and have an alibi.
  • You acted under force or coercion.
  • You were less than three years older than the victim.
  • You were married to the victim.
  • You plead insanity.

Finding the Right Attorney 

Statutory rape cases are complicated, especially when the Romeo and Juliet Law applies. But defense attorneys know the ins and outs of the law. They might not be able to prove that you’re innocent, but they can make it impossible to prove that you’re guilty.

They can challenge and suppress tainted evidence. They can also find evidence that supports a claim of consent, mistaken identity, or lack of intent or knowledge.

Plus, if you think you’ve been falsely accused, a defense attorney can help thoroughly cross-examine your accuser to reveal inconsistencies in their story. 

It’s important to hire a defense attorney from Texas who is familiar with the state’s statutes, fines, sentencing lengths, and sex offender registry. This way, they can better advocate for your sentence to be reduced or even eliminated altogether. 

The Mario Madrid Law Firm is based in Houston, Texas, and certified in criminal law. To take the first step toward protecting your rights, you can schedule a free consultation.