How Texas law views sexual relationships between minors and teens

Romeo and Juliet law

Texas is one of many states that acknowledges that teens and young adults regularly engage in consensual sex with other teens who are the same age or below the age of consent. If these teens were caught before the state’s Romeo and Juliet law was established, they had no protection and could face sex offense punishments such as fines, jail time and being forced to register as a sex offender. Typically, the oldest member of the couple would be charged with statutory rape, according to the old statutes.

Now, however, Texas has adopted Romeo and Juliet law to address the scenario of 2 teens in agreement who both consent to the sexual practices within their relationship. This Romeo and Juliet law separates this kind of situation from sexual assault and clearly defines the differences. It is an amendment designed to protect teens due to the changing culture of the 21st century.

What is Texas’ Romeo and Juliet law?

Texas Penal Code 22.011 lays out the “Romeo and Juliet” law by listing it as an “affirmative defense” as follows:

It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2) that:

(1) the actor was not more than three years older than the victim and at the time of the offense:

(A) was not required under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, to register for life as a sex offender; or

(B) was not a person who under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, had a reportable conviction or adjudication for an offense under this section; and

(2) the victim:

(A) was a child of 14 years of age or older; and

(B) was not a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01.


Why is it called the “Romeo and Juliet” law?

Many other states have also adopted this amended or new statute in an effort to protect teens from facing the harsh charges involved with sex crimes (including rape convictions). The story of Romeo and Juliet comes from Shakespeare’s story set in the 1300s. Two young teens fell in love, but their parents prohibited them from seeing each other. Tragically, they killed themselves so they could be together in death.

Romeo and Juliet laws aim to protect “young lovers” from harm so that teens are protected (and not arrested).

This includes teens who are close in age and participating in consensual sexual activities below the age of consent. In Texas, both parties must be completely consent to the relationship, whether they are hiding from their parents or other adults in authority or not. If not for this new law, many could be found, identified and convicted with serious sexual charges when both parties only had “love” on their minds.

What is the age gap allowed under Texas’ Romeo and Juliet law?

According to Texas law, even with the Romeo and Juliet law in effect, the age of limitation (the youngest age permissible) for either male or female to legally participate in sexual activity is 17. This law allows teens who are 3 years or less apart in age to have intercourse legally without facing penalties, when previously they could be charged with statutory rape.

How is statutory rape defined in Texas?

Rape is a serious and often violent sexual offense involving at least 2 people, and Texas’ Romeo and Juliet law helps separate the consensual from the non-consensual in a court of law.

The charge of statutory rape is defined as an adult over 18 who engages in a sexual act with someone below the age of consent. The concept of consensual/non-consensual doesn’t have to be determined because the charge can be filed even when the minor is in agreement to the sexual activity.

For instance, if one sexual partner is 23 and is found in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old, the 23-year-old is guilty of statutory rape — regardless of whether or not the 16-year-old “consented” to the act. The same is also true if the couple began the relationship at legal ages, such as 17 and 16, but then one turns 18 during their relationship, so that he/she is now of legal age. No sexual actions are legally permitted with children under the age of 14 at any time.

For consenting persons, even as teens, this can be unrealistic.

The purpose of the Romeo and Juliet law is to protect consenting and amiable teens from having a criminal record and serving time in jail.

As of 2018, this law states that anyone between the ages of 14 and 17 can legally participate in a sexual act with another who is within 3 years of their age. Both parties must be at least 14 years of age and be accountable for their sexual behavior.

If the ages are farther than 3 years apart or if anyone of any age has sex with a 13-year-old, both of these situations would not be protected by the Romeo and Juliet law.

If you’re charged with a sex crime, knowing this law and others can be vital for your case. You’ll need the expertise and knowledge of a trained Texas sex crime defense attorney by your side. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp is committed to providing justice for each and every client.

Contact the office today for your free consultation.

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