"I understand that good people sometimes find themselves in bad situations."

The ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Defense for Teenagers’ Sex Crimes

by Aaron Black • June 18, 2020
Teenagers don’t always make the best decisions. Driven by social media influences, a brain that’s still developing, the emotional roller coaster of young love, and raging hormones, they may choose to have a consensual sexual experience. But that can mean entering into the justice system for a criminal statutory rape complaint lodged by a parent.

The age of consent to legally agree to engage in sexual activity in Arizona is 18, one of only seven states using this older age requirement. Younger teen couples under the law don’t have the legal capacity to consent to sexual activity.

However, a legal exception is in place in Arizona to avoid a statutory rape conviction. It’s known as the Romeo and Juliet defense. This defense protects from prosecution of underage couples who are close in age, just as Shakespeare’s characters lending their names to this legal doctrine. But consenting teens in his situation may still face consequences initiated by their parents.

The Romeo & Juliet Defense

Teenagers ranging in age from 15 to 17 who are having consensual sex are eligible to avoid prosecution by invoking the Romeo and Juliet defense under Arizona Revised Statute §13-1407(E).

The Romeo and Juliet defense is available if the teenage couple has birthdays that are fewer than 24 months apart and if the defendant is age 19 but is still attending high school. So, if Emily was born on Feb. 15, 2000, and Jacob was born on Feb. 16, 2002, they are not eligible for the Romeo and Juliet defense by one day. If Emily had been born on Jan. 30, 2000 the couple would meet the requirement.

Another exception to the age of consent is if the defendant was married to the victim at the time of sexual contact.

Statutory Rape Defense

Romeo and Juliet is a defense for statutory rape, which is intentionally or knowingly having intercourse or oral sex with a minor under Arizona Revised Statute §13-1405(A). Sexual relations with a minor who is at least 15 years old is a class six felony if the person initiating sex was held in a position of trust.

A conviction for knowingly engaging in sex with a minor age 15, 16, and 17 is punishable by up to two years in prison, and sex with a person younger than 15 is a class 2 felony punishable by three to 12 ½ years in prison.

Mistaken Identity Exception

Arizona law also allows a mistaken identity exception. This defense to avoid prosecution is that the defendant didn’t know and “could not reasonably have known the age of the victim” under Arizona Revised Statute §13-1407(B). The victim somehow deceived the defendant in this scenario but the burden of proof remains on the defendant to show what a reasonable person would have believed.

Sex Offender Registration

Until recently, those convicted of having a sexual relationship with a minor were required under Arizona Revised Statute §13-3821(A)(4) to register as a sex offender, a stigma that remains on record for life.

But in April 2016 Governor Doug Ducey signed into law House Bill 2539, the “justice with mercy” bill for those who make Romeo and Juliet mistakes. The new law doesn’t require people age 22 and younger to register as a sex offender.

Ramifications of a Sexual Assault Felony Conviction

As in other states, Arizona law is tough on sex crimes. A statutory rape charge is a felony carrying a sentence of years in prison, a criminal record, and other impacts that last a lifetime without a Romeo and Juliet defense.

A felony conviction will remain on the individual’s record for 99 years. The conviction will show up on background checks and it also means the Second Amendment right to own or possess a firearm is rescinded. People who are found guilty of a felony also lose the right to vote in elections.

On the economic front, a felon won’t be allowed to register for college classes, will find it difficult to get a good job, or rent a decent place to reside because landlords have a duty to protect their tenants from harm.

In addition to a felony conviction, hefty fines and surcharges are imposed and a period of probation means meeting regularly with a probation officer.

Presenting a Romeo & Juliet Defense

At the outset, it’s crucial to have an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney present when authorities are investigating the case. The defendants have a right to remain silent during questioning so they won’t convict themselves and they have a right to have an attorney present during these interviews.

Birth certificates are the key evidence necessary to defend Romeo and Juliet cases. If the defendant is 18, the felony case will be assigned to the Maricopa County Superior Court.

Free, Confidential Legal Advice

If your child is 18 or 19 and charged with having sex with a minor, I encourage parents and guardians to discuss the case with a Criminal Defense Attorney.

The Law Office of Aaron M. Black offers a free, legal consultation. During our meeting, I’ll explain the law and the legal processes, listen to your concerns, and answer your questions.

Contact Phoenix, AZ Criminal Defense Attorney Aaron Black, or call (480) 729-1683 at any time, day or night, weekends and holidays, for an appointment.

I can review any court documents you have by email and we can discuss the situation during our call or online at FaceTime or in person.

Providing personalized service, you will always be talking with me directly, not a legal assistant.
I defend criminal cases in Arizona’s justice, municipal, state, and federal courts.

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