21 Sep 23

Romeo and Juliet Laws Hawaii

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Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 01:03 am


Romeo and Juliet Laws in Hawaii

In Hawaii, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years old. This means any person 16 or older can legally consent to sex. However, Hawaii also has Romeo and Juliet laws that provide close-in-age exemptions for consensual sexual relationships between adolescents.

Hawaii’s Romeo and Juliet laws offer more flexibility than many other states. The defenses apply to a relatively wide age range as long as both parties are minors.

Background of Romeo and Juliet Laws

Romeo and Juliet laws are named after Shakespeare’s tragic young lovers. 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 is to avoid criminalizing relationships between teens close in age who willingly have sex. Romeo and Juliet laws recognize that minors often experiment sexually even if below the legal age of consent.

Hawaii’s provisions offer broad protections compared to many states.

Hawaii’s Romeo and Juliet Provisions

Hawaii has one law that provides a defense for certain consensual underage sex:

  • Sexual assault in the third degree – Applies if the victim is 14-15 years old and the defendant is less than 5 years older.

This defense can be used regardless of gender or sexual orientation of the parties. More importantly, it applies as long as both individuals are under 18.

Broad Protections in Hawaii

Key aspects of Hawaii’s law include:

  • Applies to all consensual sexual acts
  • No lower age limit if both parties are minors
  • 5 year age gap permitted
  • Knowledge of victim’s age not required

This gives prosecutors wide discretion over charges for consensual teenage relationships. Hawaii’s law aims to avoid criminalizing adolescent experimentation.

Debate Over Romeo and Juliet Laws

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

Supporters argue:

  • Avoid unfair punishment for 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 complex issue continues to be debated in terms of policy priorities.

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Comparison to Other States

Hawaii’s Romeo and Juliet law offers more flexibility than many other states. For example:

  • California – No defense for victims under 14
  • Nevada – No protections for victims under 16
  • Oregon – 3 year gap only allowed for victims 14 or older

Very few states allow defenses for sexual activity below age 14. So Hawaii’s law provides relatively broad protections.

Practical Effects

In practice, Hawaii’s Romeo and Juliet law gives prosecutors wide discretion over charges for consensual underage sex. Some examples:

  • A 12-year-old with a 14-year-old likely would not be charged
  • A 14-year-old with an 18-year-old may avoid charges
  • A 15-year-old with a 20-year-old could still face prosecution

But prosecutors can consider the circumstances of each case.

Public Policy Considerations

Some argue Hawaii’s law creates an arbitrary exception to the age of consent and could allow older minors to exploit young children. But supporters contend it strikes a reasonable balance between safety and fairness.

If reevaluating the law, areas to consider include:

  • Setting a minimum age for the victim
  • Capping the age gap
  • Limiting the defense to certain acts

There are thoughtful points on both sides of this issue.


Hawaii has relatively broad Romeo and Juliet laws compared to most states. The defenses apply to minors within 5 years of age regardless of specific ages.

But statutory rape charges are still possible in any relationship with a minor in Hawaii. Those considering a sexual relationship with a minor must understand the risks and consult an attorney.

There are good arguments on both sides of debates around statutory rape laws and consent. Hawaii has opted for more expansive Romeo and Juliet protections, but reasonable people can disagree on the right policy approach.



[1] Hawaii Age of Consent & Statutory Rape Laws

[2] Hawaii Statutory Rape Laws

[3] Hawaii “Romeo and Juliet” Laws

[4] Romeo and Juliet Laws in Hawaii

[5] Hawaii Revised Statutes §707-732

[6] Hawaii lawmakers kill bill closing sex assault loophole