People will often ask this question. To answer it, it is important to first understand what a “Romeo and Juliet Law” is.
If you look up the Texas Penal Code, you will not find any law labeled, “Romeo and Juliet Law.” What this generally refers to is the Sexual Assault statute, specifically referencing sexual assault of a child. Because the law provides that an adult cannot have sexual contact, even consensually with a person younger than 17, the thought is, what happens if the two people are close in age—really considering consensual sexual contact amongst high school aged people.
The answer is, Yes. Texas does have a “Romeo and Juliet” law which is located in Section 22.011 of the Penal Code Section for Sexual Assault. Specifically, the law can be found in Texas Penal Code Section 22.011(e)(2) stating that,
“It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2):
- The actor was not more than three years older than the victim and at the time of the offense:
- Was not required under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, to register for life as a sex offender; or
- Was not a person who under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, had a reportable conviction or adjudication for an offense under this section; and
- The victim:
- Was a child of 14 years of age or older; and
- Was not:
- A person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01; or
- A person with whom the actor was prohibited in engaging in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse under Section 25.02.
Right. Unfortunately Google Translate does not have a pull down menu for the language of “legislature.” So let’s break this down for you.
To qualify for this defense, the accuser or “victim” must be 14 or older. The accused must not be more than 3 years older. Therefore, for a 14 year old “victim,” the accused could not be more than 17 to qualify for the defense. For a 15 year old “victim,” the accused could not be more than 18, etc.
The accused basically could not be someone who had to register as a sex offender based on a prior conviction or adjudication.
Lastly, the relationship between the two people must be such that it would not constitute bigamy if they were to marry each other (presumably because at least 1 of the 2 is already married, and the person cannot be a relative as defined in Section 25.02 of the Penal Code.
Two important points to remember:
- The sex must be consensual—otherwise it would be an allegation of sexual assault under Penal Code Section 22.011(a)(1).
- The “Romeo and Juliet Law” is actually an affirmative defense. This means that technically, the conduct is still prohibited and that it is not a “Romeo and Juliet Law” in Texas, but rather is a “Romeo and Juliet Affirmative Defense.” This means that a person can still be charged with sexual assault of a child and would possibly be in the position of proving the affirmative defense, “The Romeo and Juliet” issue by a preponderance of the evidence pursuant to Penal Code Section 2.04.
As a closing note, you may think twice about labeling your affirmative defense “Romeo and Juliet” if you are arguing to Shakespeare enthusiasts. The reason? Juliet was more than likely 13 years old and therefore she would not qualify as part of the affirmative defense in Texas. This is stated in Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene 2, when Capulet says to Paris [regarding Juliet], “she hath not seen the change of 14 years.”
From your first meeting in our firm, we know you will recognize this is more than what you expected out of a law firm. We pride ourselves on professionalism in and out of court, our accessibility (our clients know they can set up an appointment and speak with us when they would like and will often email us directly about any questions or concerns), and our passion for the law. Contact our criminal defense team today by calling (512) 494-4070 or requesting a free consultation online now.
Steven Brand is a Board Certified criminal defense lawyer who graduated cum laude from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, achieving distinction there as a member of the Order of the Coif. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan. During law school, Mr. Brand studied under attorney Barry Scheck, a nationally renowned death penalty lawyer and founder of the first innocence project. Mr. Brand is admitted to practice law in the states of Texas and New York and the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York (New York City), U.S. Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces, Navy/Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, Army Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.