Romeo and Juliet Laws California

Romeo and Juliet Laws in California

Romeo and Juliet Laws in California

In California, the age of consent for sexual activity is 18 years old. This means any person 18 or older can legally consent to sex. However, California does not have any Romeo and Juliet laws that provide close-in-age exemptions for consensual sexual relationships involving a minor.

The lack of Romeo and Juliet provisions in California means statutory rape laws are strictly enforced based on age, with no flexibility for consensual acts between minors.

Background on Romeo and Juliet Laws

Romeo and Juliet laws are named after Shakespeare’s tragic young lovers, Romeo and Juliet. They provide legal defenses that can be used by defendants charged with statutory rape for engaging in consensual sexual activity with a minor.

The intent behind Romeo and Juliet laws is to avoid criminalizing consensual relationships between adolescents close in age. These laws recognize that teenagers often experiment sexually even if below the legal age of consent.

Most states have adopted some form of Romeo and Juliet laws. But California is one of the few states lacking any such provisions.

California’s Lack of Romeo and Juliet Protections

California statutory rape laws do not make any distinction based on the ages of the victim and defendant. The age of consent is simply 18 years old, with no defenses or exemptions.

This means if a 17-year-old willingly has sex with a 16-year-old, it is still considered statutory rape. The close ages of the teens and consensual nature of the act are not taken into account.

Without Romeo and Juliet laws, prosecutors in California have less discretion in charging decisions for such cases. Statutory rape charges can potentially be pursued regardless of the circumstances.

Debate Over Romeo and Juliet Laws

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of Romeo and Juliet laws:

Supporters argue:

  • Avoid unfairly criminalizing teen relationships
  • Acknowledge reality that minors often have sex
  • Allow flexibility for borderline cases

Critics argue:

  • Arbitrary exceptions to clear age of consent
  • Still allow older teens to exploit younger ones
  • Difficult to determine if consent is voluntary

This ongoing debate continues around the appropriate policies regarding statutory rape and underage sex.

Comparison to Neighboring States

Many states near California have adopted Romeo and Juliet laws. For example:

  • Nevada – No minimum age if victim is 16-17 and minor
  • Arizona – Romeo and Juliet defense for 13-15 year olds
  • Oregon – 3 year age gap allowed for all minors

This makes California an outlier in the region for lacking any Romeo and Juliet protections. But a few other states like Texas and Wisconsin also have no such laws.

Effects and Criticisms

The lack of Romeo and Juliet laws in California has garnered some criticism. Opponents argue it leads to disproportionate charges and penalties for consensual underage relationships.

For example, high school sweethearts who begin dating at ages 16 and 17 could face statutory rape charges strictly based on age. Even if the relationship is clearly consensual, the law provides no flexibility.

Some contend these strict statutory rape laws undermine public confidence in the fairness and wisdom of the justice system. There are calls for California to adopt Romeo and Juliet defenses more in line with most other states.

Public Policy Considerations

California lawmakers could consider several factors if re-evaluating the state’s statutory rape laws:

  • Should defenses be based on age gap or specific ages?
  • What age gaps should be permitted?
  • Should protections extend below age 14?
  • Should laws cover acts beyond intercourse?

This complex issue involves weighing public safety, morality, and pragmatic concerns. Reasonable people can disagree on where to draw the lines.


California is one of the few states lacking any Romeo and Juliet laws to provide defenses for consensual underage sex. The age of consent is strictly enforced at 18 with no exceptions.

This means sexual relationships with anyone under 18 should be avoided in California. There are no protections based on close ages or consensual acts. Consult an attorney to understand the significant risks.

The debate continues around balancing public safety and fairness in statutory rape laws. California has taken a strict stance, but thoughtful people can disagree on the right policy approach.


[1] Does California Have a “Romeo and Juliet” Law?

[2] Does California Have Romeo and Juliet Laws?

[3] California Statutory Rape Laws

[4] California Age of Consent & Statutory Rape Laws

[5] If There is a Romeo and Juliet Law in California, What Is It?