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The Romeo and Juliet statute is an affirmative defense that recognizes that, although a person has to be 17 in Texas to be able to give consent to sexual activity, it does not make sense to prosecute minors for a felony when they willingly engage in sexual activity with someone close to their age. Romeo and Juliet statutes range from two to five years in Texas based on the nature of the alleged offense.
In Texas, the Romeo-Juliet law may protect from prosecution young adults or teenagers within three years of age who are both over the age of 14 and willingly engage in sexual conduct. In these cases, a sex crime charge could be reduced or possibly dismissed.
This is an affirmative defense, so a person can be charged with the offense regardless of age and must raise the defense in court.
Most people (even many lawyers) incorrectly assume the Romeo and Juliet law in Texas is always a three-year provision. The Romeo and Juliet law in Texas varies based on the alleged offense.
Remember, this is an affirmative defense, not a defense. This means that you can raise something in an argument to defend yourself after you have been arrested, but it will not prevent a lawful arrest from happening in the first place. So as you are contemplating choices, remember asserting the Romeo-Juliet statute in Texas is likely only to occur after you have been arrested, someone bonds you out, and you already have a criminal case pending. Similarly, there will be a court document that says you were charged with Indecency with a Minor or Sexual Assault of a Minor until and unless you can get those records expunged. Remember also that, regardless of how the individuals involved in the act may feel about it, anyone can report the sexual relationship to the police. Similarly, if there is a pregnancy, hospital staff will seek information on the child’s father, his age, and are likely to report any possible offense to the police.
A common question, especially among young adults, is when they can legally have sex. The easy answer is that if both parties are over 17 in Texas, sexual conduct is legal. If both parties are over 18, sexual activity is generally legal under state and federal law. Federal law is generally only implicated if one person crossed state lines to have sex.
The age a person can give consent to have sex in Texas is 17. Yet the law envisions scenarios where two minors may have a sexual relationship and should not be prosecuted. So an affirmative defense was created that applies in certain situations. While this article talks in detail about the Romeo-Juliet statute, assuming we are trying to answer the question of when is the youngest age you can legally (at least through an affirmative defense) have sex in Texas is 14 with someone who is also a minor. An affirmative defense means you can still be arrested and charged but you can raise the defense in court. Another exemption which isn’t tied to an age is if two people are married.
A little-known rule is you don’t have to register as a sex offender for Indecency with a Child or Sexual Assault of a Child if the court makes an affirmative finding that at the time of the offense, the defendant was not more than 4 years older than the victim, and the victim was at least 15, and the offense is solely based on age. See 42.017 and 62.301 CCP
Both Penal Code 21.11 and Penal Code 22.011 provide slightly different affirmative defenses, but generally allow an affirmative defense for a person who is no more than three years older than the child. This only applies if the younger child is at least 14 years old.
The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas is often misunderstood, and important defenses are often overlooked. Contact us immediately if you are charged with a child sex crime in north Texas. We have a proven track record of success.