Have you ever heard of the Romeo and Juliet law?

The Romeo and Juliet law is part of Arizona’s statutory rape laws. Statutory rape is a type of sex crime that involves a difference in age rather than force.

In this post, Phoenix sex crimes attorney Belén Olmedo Guerra will answer all your questions about statutory rape, as well as how the Romeo & Juliet law might affect you or your children. We’ll also talk about possible legal defenses against statutory rape charges.

What is Statutory Rape in Arizona?

Many people believe that when we use the word “rape”, some kind of forcible assault has taken place. Many rape crimes do involve forcible assault, but not all.

Rape, at its definition, is when sexual activity occurs without informed consent from both parties. There are several protected groups that the law does not believe can give informed consent at all. One of these protected groups is minors. This is where Arizona age of consent laws come into play.

In the eyes of Arizona law, a minor cannot consent to sexual relations until they reach the age of consent. The term “statutory” implies that the crime is only a crime because of the age difference; had the two parties been over the age of 18, there would be no crime.

For instance, if a 23-year-old engages in sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old, that is illegal, regardless of if the 16-year-old consented to the sexual activity. This is because the law does not believe a 16-year-old meets the age of consent and therefore, cannot consent to sexual intercourse or other sexual activity.

There is an exception when both parties are minors. This is the Romeo and Juliet Law. We’ll talk more about that below.

As such, the prosecutor does not need to prove that any kind of assault occurred in a statutory rape case.

That being said, rape, where there is force or assault, is still illegal in Arizona. The courts will prosecute these crimes under the state’s assault and battery laws, or the child molestation laws.

What Are Arizona’s Statutory Rape Laws?

Statutory rape falls under Arizona’s sexual abuse and molestation laws. Arizona divides the various charges into several categories, based on the difference in age between the two parties and the type of sexual activity that occurred.

Below is an overview of the criminal charges defendants might incur.

Sexual Conduct with a Minor

Sexual conduct with a minor is a crime that involves sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact between two parties; one party must be younger than 18, and a defendant of any age.

It also includes sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact between a minor who is 15, 16, or 17 and a defendant who is 19 or older (unless the defendant is still in high school), and who is at least two years older than the defendant.

Molestation of a Child

Molestation of a child in Arizona is sexual contact without penetration between a minor who is 14 or younger and a defendant of any age.

Sexual Abuse

Under Arizona law, sexual abuse is when there is consensual sexual contact between a minor 14 or younger and a defendant of any age. This sexual contact might only include the touching of a female’s breast.

What Are the Penalties for Statutory Rape in Arizona?

Sexual conduct with a minor, molestation of a child, and sexual abuse are all felony charges in Arizona.

Penalties for a felony conviction will vary and could include prison time, fines, or both. It also requires that the perpetrator be labeled as a sex offender, appearing on the sex offender registry for the remainder of their life. Typically, the younger the minor is, the harsher the punishment will be.

Increased penalties will apply to defendants with prior convictions. Increased penalties may also apply for defendants who were in a position of power: this includes clergymen, a teacher, or a coach.

A conviction for sexual conduct with a minor can result in a prison sentence ranging from 13 years to life, depending on the facts of the case.

What are Some Legal Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge?

The usual defenses are available to defendants facing statutory rape charges. You can claim that you did not commit the crime but someone else did, or that the crime didn’t take place at all.

Some of the following defenses may apply as well:

Marital Exception

Arizona has an exemption for statutory rape that allows two married people to have consensual sex, regardless of their ages.

Let’s look at an example: minors cannot consent to sex. So, if a 15-year-old has sex with her 19-year-old boyfriend, the boyfriend is guilty of statutory rape. Arizona can and will prosecute him under its sexual assault laws.

But if the two are legally married and living in Arizona, there is an age exemption and no crime has taken place.

It is important to note that despite this law, it is still illegal to forcibly rape your spouse. If a man forcibly rapes his wife, he has no defense under the law, despite the fact that they were married.

The Romeo & Juliet Law

We’re back to Shakespeare. This exception exists to protect two teenagers engaging in consensual sex when they are close in age, as Romeo and Juliet were.

The Romeo and Juliet law allows consensual sex between underage couples who are less than two years apart in age. It applies when these minors are 15, 16, or 17 years old.

Therefore, if a 15-year-old engages in consensual sexual intercourse with their 17-year-old partner, the Romeo and Juliet law protects them.

The Romeo and Juliet law also protects defendants who are older than 18 but are still in high school, as long as they are no more than two years older than their partner.

Mistake of Age

In many states, mistake of age is not a reasonable defense. In Arizona, it is sometimes viable.

If a minor is 15, 16, or 17, the defendant can argue that they believed the minor was not a minor. They may even argue that the minor represented themselves as older and that a reasonable person would believe them. This is a viable defense in Arizona court.

Contact the Belén Law Firm

Belén Olmedo Guerra is an experienced Phoenix criminal defense lawyer who handles a broad range of sex crimes. At the Belén Law Firm, we understand that these types of crimes are emotionally fraught and can do harm to reputations. For this reason, we handle each and every case with discretion and integrity.

For more information about the Romeo and Juliet law, contact a criminal defense attorney at Belén Law Firm by calling 602-715-0908 today. You can also leave us a message on our website.