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Is Sex Between Minors a Crime?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Teenage love grips many of the nation's minors, and many minors will become sexually active by sleeping with another minor. But statutory rape laws make it a crime to have sex with any person under the "age of consent."

Lawmakers understand that teens want to make love, but is sex between two minors a crime?

Here's what you need to know:

Statutory Rape Laws

Young peers having sex is a story as old as Pyramus and Thisbe, Romeo and Juliet, or half the cast of "Glee" with the other half. However, every state has an "age of consent," a minimum age which any person must be before consenting to sex. Having sex with someone below the age of consent is statutory rape -- a crime.

Statutory rape does not require any evidence of force or coercion; a person is guilty simply by performing a sexual act with a minor below the age of consent. Depending on the state, the age of consent can be as low as 16 years of age, while others set the limit at 17 (e.g., Texas) or 18 (e.g., California).

In general, when two minors under the age of consent engage in "consensual" sex with one another, they are both open to statutory rape charges.

'Romeo and Juliet' Laws

Since it would be a strange or unjust result to throw love-struck teens into jail for having consensual sex, many states have passed so-called "Romeo and Juliet" laws. These laws allow minors to escape being punished as a sex offender or to receive only minor criminal punishment when both minors are within a few years of each others' ages.

In Texas, for example, a minor charged with statutory rape may raise an affirmative defense at trial if the minor is:

  • Not more than three years older than his or her sexual partner,
  • Not a sex offender,
  • Not accused of having sex with anyone under 14 years of age, and
  • Able to legally marry the sexual partner (i.e., are not same-sex partners).

Because of these defenses in many states, prosecutors will not file charges if two consenting minors are within the "Romeo and Juliet" law of their home state. However, some states, notably California, lack any sort of "Romeo and Juliet" law, and minors may be prosecuted for otherwise loving conduct.

If you're worried about how your state treats minors having sex, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.

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