As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers can explain, Florida does have a so-called “Romeo & Juliet law,” but it’s not a catch-all for every consensual relationship situation between legal adults and teenagers. It also won’t protect you from criminal charges or conviction. It’s merely a means for the defendant to petition the court not to have to register as a sex offender.
Prior to 2007, the law in Florida was that ANY sexual relations between a minor and someone over the age of 18 was statutory rape – regardless of consent. A conviction meant the older party in the relationship would automatically have to register as a sex offender – and suffer all the lifelong complications that come with that, including difficulty with employment, housing, parental rights, and more.
In 2007, an exemption was introduced – what we refer to as the “Romeo & Juliet law,” codified in F.S. 943.0435.
What’s the Age of Consent in Florida?
First thing’s first: The age of consent for sexual relations in Florida is 18. Minors younger than that are by-and-large considered incapable of consenting to sexual activity.
There a few limited exceptions. Per F.S. 794.05, a minor who is 16 or 17 can consent to sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 24. In that case, no crime is committed. Same with consensual teen relationships between individuals 13 to 17 when there is no more than a 4-year age gap.
However, once the older half crosses the threshold of their 24th birthday, sexual intercourse with a 16 or 17-year-old becomes statutory rape, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
- Scenarios that would be considered statutory rape under Florida law:
- A sexual relationship between a 15-year-old and 18-year-old. (Second-degree felony.)
- A sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and a 24-year-old. (Second-degree felony.)
- A consensual sexual relationship between a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old. (Even though they’re both teenagers and it’s consensual, the older teen can be charged with lewd lascivious conduct if they’re 4+ years older than their younger paramour. It might literally come down to the month they were each born in. Though if that’s true, the defense might be in a stronger position to negotiate a dismissal or far reduced charge.)
If an adult travels to meet the minor for sex after making arrangements over the phone or internet, this is a second-degree felony – even if you never actually met up. If you’re 21-or-older and impregnant someone under 16, that’s a third-degree felony (contributing to the delinquency of a minor).
No one under 16 can consent to sex.
One (rare) exception is…
…when someone who is at least 16 but younger than 18 petitions the court to have the “disabilities of non-age” removed, per F.S. 743, If the judge grants their petition, they are effectively emancipated and allowed to lawfully engage in the same activities as any 18-year-old – which includes consenting to sex.
It’s worth noting that even marriage is probably not going to be a defense – at least as of 2018. Prior to that, minors as young as 16 could marry with parental consent, with judicial discretion for cases involving even younger minors if they were pregnant. However, the new law only allows for 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent – and even then, only to someone who is less than 2 years older than them. That scenario (a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old) is already decriminalized under Florida law.
Note: Ignorance of the younger person’s real age is not a defense that will fly in these cases – even if they lied to you and presented you with a convincing-looking fake ID. (That said, such circumstances can be the basis for a more lenient sentence or possible charge reduction.)
So What Does Florida’s Romeo & Juliet Law Do?
The purpose of the Romeo & Juliet law in Florida is to lessen the consequences for young adults close in age to their minor paramours and older adults who sexually prey on minors. It does NOT make it lawful for someone over 18 to have a sexual relationship with someone under 18. What it does is prevent the older party from having to register as a sex offender.
In order to be applicable, the facts must align with the following:
- The younger of the two was at least 14 at the time.
- The age difference was no more than 4 years.
- The sexual activity was mutually consensual.
- The accused has no prior sex crimes on their record.
None of these circumstances will help you avoid a conviction for statutory rape in Florida. However, you will be able to ask the court to avoid your name on the sex offender registry. These offenders can file a motion to petition the court for this at the time of sentencing.
You basically get one shot at it. If the court denies your petition, you have to wait another 20-25 years to ask again. Yet another reason to have a highly-skilled criminal defense lawyer from the very beginning in any Florida sex crimes case.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.