Florida has strict laws about consent in sexual relationships. Being charged with breaking those consent laws can put someone on the sexual offender registry, which can have lifelong impacts. However, Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” law covers special circumstances if both parties are close enough in age.
But who does the Romeo and Juliet law apply to? And how does it reduce legal consequences for those involved? From the experts at Mike G law, here’s what you need to know about Florida’s Romeo and Juliet law.
Understanding the Age of Consent in Florida
In Florida, the age of consent is 18. It is illegal for anyone to engage in sexual activity with a minor, who is defined as anyone under the age of consent. Those who are found violating this law may be charged with statutory rape.
It does not matter if the victim verbally consented or even initiated the activity. This is because the state sees any individual under 18 as too young to legally give consent, no matter what a minor might say or do.
The following defenses are not considered valid for an adult to use in court:
- The offender was unaware of the minor’s age
- The minor intentionally appeared older to mislead the offender
- The minor said yes to or initiated sexual contact
- The minor has participated in sexual activity before
But what if the age gap is very small? Is it legal for an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old to willingly engage in sexual activity? Situations like that are where Florida’s Romeo and Juliet law comes into play.
Exemptions in Florida
Florida does in fact have a “close in age” exemption in place. This exemption protects individuals who participated in consensual relations and are close in age.
According to Fla. Stat. 794.05, it is illegal for a person over the age of 24 to have sexual contact with someone who is 16 or 17 years old. Someone who is younger than 24 but older than 18 may be protected by the Romeo and Juliet law.
What is the Romeo and Juliet Law in Florida?
The Romeo and Juliet law protects teenagers and young adults who engage in consensual sexual contact. Those who meet the law’s criteria may be exempt from having to register as sex offenders.
For the Romeo and Juliet law in Florida to be applicable, the case must meet the following criteria:
- The perceived victim must be between 14 and 17 years old
- The offender must be no more than four years older than the victim (Note: 4 years refers to 1,460 days; if the age gap between the offender and victim is 1,461 days, then the Romeo and Juliet law will not apply)
- The perceived victim said yes to the sexual activity
- The offender’s record is free of previous sex crimes
It’s important to note that the Romeo and Juliet law in Florida does not legalize this kind of sexual activity; it merely provides legal protections to those who meet its criteria.
When invoked in court, the Romeo and Juliet law may:
- Prevent someone from having to register as a sex offender
- Reduce fines/sentence lengths
- Prevent the prosecutor from filing charges
- Have the offender’s record expunged after serving their sentence
History of the Law
Before Florida’s Romeo and Juliet law was established, teens who engaged in consensual sex were sometimes required to register as sexual offenders.
Being on the sex offender registry, especially at such a young age, has severe consequences. It makes it difficult to find a job and limits where you can live, and it can also alienate you from your community.
The State of Florida recognized this and set out to find a more effective solution that distinguishes between teenagers engaging in normal sexual activity and criminal offenders who are dangerous to the community.
During the 2006 Legislative Session, members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee brought up the issue. The Romeo and Juliet legislation was officially passed in 2007.
To better understand how the Romeo and Juliet law in Florida applies, read the following example scenarios to see how the law may apply. Be aware that even if your case matches some of the details of these scenarios, you are not guaranteed a certain outcome.
A 14-year-old and an 18-year-old have consensual sex. The 14-year-old’s birthday is January 1st, 2006, and the 18-year-old’s birthday is January 2nd, 2002. In this case, the age gap is technically greater than four years. This means the law does not apply.
Two 15-year-olds engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity. All requirements of the law are met, so both would be protected under this law and cannot be forced to register as sex offenders.
An 18-year-old has consensual sex with a 15-year-old. As Fla. Stat. 794.05 states, this is illegal. The act would only be legal if the victim was 16 years or older. In theory, the 18-year-old could be charged with statutory rape.
However, the 18-year-old could petition a court under the Romeo and Juliet law to meet all requirements, which could:
- Lead the prosecutor not to press charges
- Result in a lower fine and reduced sentence
- Have their record expunged after they serve their sentence
- Prevent them from having to register as a sex offender
Does the Romeo and Juliet law guarantee removal from the sex offender registry?
Even if an individual meets all of its criteria, the Romeo and Juliet law does not necessarily guarantee removal from the sex offender registry.
The law only guarantees that you can petition a court. Ultimately, the final decision is up to the judge.
If you are filing a petition under the Romeo and Juliet law, you need a lawyer on your side to argue your case and make sure you’re given a fair trial. At Mike G Law, we have experience helping to protect clients who fit the Romeo and Juliet law criteria.
Does the law apply to pre-2007 cases?
The Romeo and Juliet law became official legislation in 2007. However, it is applicable to cases that happened before 2007. As long as someone meets the requirements, they will be eligible to petition under this law.
If your case occurred before 2007 and you’re petitioning to revoke your sex offender status, contact us at Mike G law today. We can help you navigate the courts and maximize your chances of winning your case.
Think the Romeo and Juliet Law Might Apply to You? Contact Us
Do you have more questions about the Romeo and Juliet law in Florida? Do you have a case that deals with consent issues, and you think the Romeo and Juliet law could protect you? Let the Mike G Law team help.
At Mike G Law, we have years of experience representing clients who need protection under the Romeo and Juliet law—and we’re here to listen to your case.
Contact us today to talk to Mike G about consent laws in Florida.