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  • Are There Romeo & Juliet Laws in Virginia?

  • Romeo and Juliet laws are statutes that provide certain protection from the harsh penalties of a sex-crime conviction for a consensual relationship when the participants involved are close in age, specifically minors. Although there are no specific Romeo & Juliet laws in the state of Virginia, certain statutory provisions do provide some close-in-age protections with certain scenarios and circumstances.

    At Williams Stone Carpenter Buczek, PC, our attorneys work with individuals throughout Northern Virginia who are charged with a sex crime, including statutory rape or sexual assault charges.

    The Significance of Romeo & Juliet Laws in the United States

    In most states, sex-crime laws have always been written stating that if a high school student engaged in consensual sexual activity with another of similar age, they could face a criminal conviction. Over the years the perception of this has changed & many states have reconsidered their statutes claiming that punishing these individuals is inherently unfair. This has led to the creation of the Romeo & Juliet Laws or "close-in-age" exemptions for many states.

    Simply put, Romeo & Juliet laws intend to prevent the prosecution of two individuals who involve in consensual sexual acts when both of them are very close to each other in terms of age, and one or both participants are below the age of consent. The provisions are also meant to prevent a sexual act occurring between partners with a few years age gap from being considered a criminal offense, thereby reducing the severity of penalties or punishments for the same. Typically, two to four years is the permitted age range for a Romeo & Juliet provision, but do vary by state.

    Close-In-Age Exemptions in Virginia

    In the United States, the minimum age at which a person is considered old enough legally to consent to involvement in sexual activity is known as the age of consent; which is specifically 18 years for any kind of sexual relationships in the state of Virginia. According to Virginia law, an individual who is 18 years or older could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor if engaging in sexual intercourse with a 15, 16 or 17-year old. Basically, a consensual sexual relationship between two minors aged 15, 16 or 17 is legal, and only becomes illegal if one of the individuals involved is 18 or older. The statute includes an additional exception stating that if two individuals are married, they cannot be convicted of breaking this particular law, even if one party is 18 years of age or older.

    Virginia also recognizes carnal knowledge. The severity of this offense depends upon the age of the offender. According to Virginia Code § 18.2-63, a person 18 years of age or older may be found guilty of a Class 4 felony if the minor is between thirteen and fifteen years of age and is “carnally known”. This is punishable by two to ten years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine. However, if the accused is under 18 years of age as well, but is at least 3 years older than the alleged victim, then the charge may be reduced to a Class 6 felony. In addition, if the accused is less than three years older than the alleged victim, the charge can be reduced further to a Class 4 misdemeanor. In other words, the statute does not provide protection from prosecution when the participants are close in age but may reduce the charges.

    Violating the Statute

    Statutory rape laws basically make it a crime to have intercourse with a person below a certain age. There is no need for a prosecutor to prove an assault, statutory rape is still rape. Also, rape that involves an assault or force is prosecuted as forcible rape and is illegal in Virginia. Sexual assault may also be charged under the state’s child enticement and abuse laws or assault and battery laws.

    In addition to fines and potential prison time, Virginia also requires an individual convicted of particular sex-crimes, including some instances of statutory rape, to register as a sex offender. 

    Defending a Statutory Rape Charge

    As briefly mentioned above, Virginia has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and that minor’s spouse, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married.

    If a 16-year old willingly has sex with an adult aged 22, the adult could be charged with rape since the minor is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place. However, under the marital exemption in Virginia, if the two are married there is no possibility of criminal charges for the same consensual act. However, if the same adult were to commit rape by forcing the minor to have sex against his or her will, there would be no protection under Virginia law, even if married.

    Potential defenses which could apply to you include:

    • You were under physical compulsion to carry out the act for fear of your life
    • The minor set out with the intent to have sexual intercourse with an adult
    • You did not know that the individual was a minor
    • Your age and that of the minor are in close proximity to one another
    • No actual sexual intercourse took place

    It must be proven you had sexual intercourse and the victim was under 18. It is best you consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation. In Northern Virginia, we welcome your call at Eric Stone Law, PC.

    Contact Williams Stone Carpenter Buczek, PC in Northern Virginia

    The information above is a simple overview of underage-sex laws in Virginia. If you are facing a sex-crime charge, including a statutory rape charge, or have further questions about Romeo & Juliet Laws, contact our attorneys. It is very important that if you have been arrested or charged with statutory rape in Virginia to remain silent and call our Stafford County law firm at 540-657-0111.

    We are located in Stafford, Fredericksburg & Manassas, VA and work with individuals throughout Northern Virginia. By working with us, we can evaluate your situation and assist in developing a defense that might apply to your case.