Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas
Sexual assault is a serious crime that has severe consequences under Texas law. Assaults of either an adult or a child can lead to prison time, large fines, and your name listed on the Texas sex offender registry. However, not all cases of sexual assault are violations of consent – some can happen when the victim isn’t of age to give legal consent to sexual activity.
Understanding Statutory Rape
Statutory rape occurs when a legal adult conducts any form of sexual activity with someone below the age of consent. It can even happen when the minor agrees to sexual activity. For example, if a 23-year-old and a 16-year-old were in a relationship and had intercourse, the 23-year-old would be guilty of statutory rape, no matter if the 16-year-old provided his or her consent or not. The purpose of such laws is to prevent adults from taking advantage of minors who don’t yet fully understand the seriousness of sexual activity.
Statutory rape laws are based on the age of consent. While many states in America set the age of consent at 18, Texas law allows for anyone aged 17 or older to give their consent for sexual activity to anyone at or over the same age. In the above example, if the two waited until the 16-year-old had turned 17, they would be within their legal rights to have consensual sex.
While these laws play a role in keeping adults from taking advantage of children, they can also cause trouble. For teenagers in consensual relationships, there’s a chance that one of them will be older by a few years. What does that mean for their relationship once one of them turns 18 and becomes a legal adult?
The Role of Texas’ Romeo and Juliet Laws
Many teenagers form relationships throughout their high school years. Sometimes, this can lead to dating across grades and ages. If a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old are dating, there may be a period when one is 18 and the other is still 16. Despite the relationship being consensual, there’s a chance that parents or guardians may not approve of the relationship and the 18-year-old may face charges of statutory rape.
While the relationship falls under the qualifications for statutory rape, Texas’s Romeo and Juliet laws create a way for young adults to avoid lifelong consequences for consensual relationships. After all, teenagers who are in a relationship with small age gaps often don’t face any difficulties until one of them becomes a legal adult. Is it fair to ruin a young adult’s life with a permanent sex offender registration over a consensual relationship?
Texas Penal Code 22.021
Texas Penal Code 22.021 establishes the “Romeo and Juliet” law that handles these situations. The law states that anyone between the ages of 14 and 17 can legally give consent with someone within three years of their age, so long as the other party is at least 14 and gives his or her consent. This code means that an 18-year-old and 15-year-old would be able to have consensual sex. However, a 14-year-old would not be able to have sex with anyone under the age of 14, even with the three-year age gap. Anyone who is 13-years-old cannot consent to sexual activity under any circumstances.
While the Romeo and Juliet laws exist to prevent unfair prosecutions of young adults, teenagers can still commit statutory rape if they have sex with someone outside of their acceptable age range, such as a 17- and 13-year-old. Likewise, any adult who isn’t within three years of a minor partner can also commit statutory rape, such as a 20- and 16-year-old.
Because of the severity of sexual assault charges, especially against minors, it is important to have skilled legal representation to help you with accusations of statutory rape. If you are facing sexual assault charges, hire a Houston criminal defense lawyer today.