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Does California Have a Romeo and Juliet Law?
Definition & Statistics in 2024

California has a “Romeo and Juliet” law, also known as a close-in-age exemption. This law provides an exemption to statutory rape charges in certain situations where the individuals involved are close in age.
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What is a Romeo and Juliet Law?

According to the US Legal, teenage couples who engage in consensual sexual conduct before both individuals have reached the age of consent, or after one has but the other has not, may find that the older partner could be technically guilty of rape [1].

This is because any consent between partners, even if freely given, does not meet the standard of law when it is given by a minor.

Romeo and Juliet" laws serve to reduce or eliminate the penalty of the crime in cases where the couple's age difference is minor and the sexual contact is only considered rape because of the lack of legally-recognized consent - Agency Stated.

California Penal Code § 261.5 – Statutory Rape

According to the KCLG, statutory rape in California is defined as engaging in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of eighteen, where the victim cannot be the perpetrator's spouse [2]. The punishment for statutory rape varies based on the age difference between the parties.

This makes Statutory Rape a “wobbler" crime; the prosecution can charge you with a Misdemeanor or a Felony, depending on the unique facts of your case - John D. From KCLG stated.

For instance, if the perpetrator is eighteen and the other person is within two years of their age, they could face up to six months in a county jail, hefty fines, or both. However, if the perpetrator is over twenty-one and the other person is under sixteen, the penalties increase to up to four years in state prison and fines exceeding $25,000.

Also Read: Is it Illegal for 2 Minors to Have Sex?

California Statutory Rape Punishments

As stated by Wallin & Klarich, if you are found guilty of statutory rape, the court has the authority to determine your punishment based on the specifics of your case [3]. The court can choose from the following options during sentencing:

Sentence you to one of the three terms specified by law:

  • For a statutory rape misdemeanor: up to one year in county jail.
  • For a statutory rape felony: 16 months to three years in county jail.
  • For a statutory rape felony (if you are 21 or older and the victim is under 16): two to four years in county jail.
  • Place you on probation and impose a sentence of up to one year in county jail.
  • Place you on probation without jail time, but require you to complete community service, participate in a work release program, and attend therapy.
  • Place you on formal probation and assign you a probation officer.
  • Order you to register as a sex offender according to California Penal Code section 290.

What to do if You've Been Accused of a Sex Crime in California

  • YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, SO EXERCISE IT. You are not obligated to provide any statements to the police under any circumstances. If a detective attempts to contact you to ask questions about an incident, simply refuse to engage. If the officer or detective persists, inform them that you have already sought advice from a criminal defense lawyer and have been advised not to discuss the accusation or incident with anyone. If the police read you your rights, assert them! The typical Miranda advisement often concludes with the question, "With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak with me?" "Your answer is always “no.” It is extremely unlikely that speaking to police will help your case, and you should never give police a statement without first clearing this (probably terrible) idea with an attorney.
  • BEWARE OF "PRETEXT CALLS" OR REQUESTS FOR AN "APOLOGY LETTER." Following your accuser's conversation with the police, it is common for the police to arrange a recorded phone call. Your accuser may call you to inquire about the incident or offer you an opportunity to present your side of the story, or even attempt to elicit a confession. If anyone calls you to discuss an alleged incident, end the conversation promptly and politely. State something like, "I did not commit those actions, and I do not wish to speak with you," then terminate the call. Remember that the call is being recorded, so avoid saying anything that could be misconstrued. If you believe you have received a pretext call, text, or made a false apology, seek the advice of a sex crime defense attorney immediately.
  • CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY IMMEDIATELY. In cases like these, it is crucial to involve an attorney as soon as possible, and you must be completely truthful with any attorney you consult for proper advice. Any information disclosed to an attorney, even during the initial consultation, is protected by attorney-client privilege. Meet with the attorney privately (without your parents or significant other present) and provide a comprehensive account of the entire situation. If you are unable to afford an attorney, contact the Public Defender's office and request to speak with an attorney. Many sex crime defense attorneys offer free consultations, which you should take advantage of, but use this service responsibly.

California Sex Crimes Statistics

According to the California Department of Justice’s 2020 Crime in California report, there were 22,849 reported cases of forcible rape, 7,754 cases of other sex offenses, and 4,607 cases of statutory rape in California [4]. These figures indicate a slight decrease from the previous year's statistics but still underscore the prevalence of sex crimes in the state.

The report also highlights that certain demographics are more vulnerable to experiencing sex crimes in California. For instance, women comprised 88.2% of all forcible rape victims and 71.8% of all victims of other sex offenses. Additionally, minors under 18 accounted for 33.6% of all forcible rape victims and 61.5% of all statutory rape victims.

Moreover, the California Department of Justice provides a county-by-county breakdown of sex crimes. In 2020, Los Angeles County reported the highest number of sex offenses, totaling 4,909 cases, followed by San Diego County with 1,676 cases and Orange County with 1,578 cases.

It’s important to note that these statistics only reflect reported cases of sex crimes, and the actual number of incidents is likely higher. Many sex crimes go unreported due to fear, shame, or a lack of trust in the justice system - Agency stated.

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References:

1. https://definitions.uslegal.com/r/romeo-and-juliet-law/
2. https://www.kannlawoffice.com/statutory-rape.html
3. https://www.wklaw.com/statutory-rape-punishment-sentence/
4. https://www.marleylawfirm.com/understanding-the-prevalence-of-sex-crimes-in-california-statistics-and-implications/