NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 01:03 am
Romeo and Juliet Laws in Louisiana
In Louisiana, the age of consent is 17. This means anyone 17 or older can legally consent to sexual activity. But Louisiana also has some exemptions for consensual sex between minors close in age, commonly known as “Romeo and Juliet” laws.
These provisions aim to avoid criminalizing underage couples who engage in consensual sex. However, Louisiana’s Romeo and Juliet laws are fairly limited compared to some other states.
Background on Romeo and Juliet Laws
Romeo and Juliet laws provide defenses or exemptions that can be used by underage defendants charged with sex crimes. The name comes from Shakespeare’s young tragic lovers, Romeo and Juliet, who were teenagers whose relationship was forbidden.
The intent behind Romeo and Juliet laws is to prevent harsh punishments for consensual relationships involving minors close in age. These laws recognize that teenagers often experiment sexually even if under the legal age of consent.
Louisiana’s Romeo and Juliet Provisions
Louisiana has two provisions that provide limited defenses for some consensual underage sex:
- Misdemeanor carnal knowledge of a juvenile
- Felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile
The misdemeanor provision applies when the victim is 13-16 and the defendant is 17 or older with an age difference of no more than 3 years. For example, this defense could apply if a 16-year-old willingly has sex with an 18-year-old.
The felony provision is similar but applies to a victim age 13-17 and a defendant no more than 4 years older. Both provisions require the victim to consent freely and voluntarily.
Limits of Louisiana’s Laws
Louisiana’s Romeo and Juliet defenses are fairly narrow. They only apply to vaginal or anal intercourse – not other sexual acts. And there is no defense if the victim is under 13.
Also, meeting the age requirements doesn’t guarantee the defenses will succeed. Prosecutors can still bring charges, and judges or juries may reject the defenses.
Overall, Louisiana’s provisions offer limited protections compared to Romeo and Juliet laws in many other states. But they do provide some flexibility in charging decisions for borderline cases.
Debate Over Romeo and Juliet Laws
There are good arguments on both sides of Romeo and Juliet laws:
- Prevents unfair punishment for consensual teen relationships
- Acknowledges reality that teens often have sex before age 18
- Gives prosecutors discretion for borderline cases
- Can still allow older teens to exploit younger ones
- Arbitrary to allow sex below age of consent
- Difficult to determine if consent is really voluntary
There are good points on both sides. Reasonable people can debate where the right balance lies.
Comparison to Other States
Louisiana’s Romeo and Juliet provisions are more limited than many other states. For example:
- Connecticut – 3 year gap allowed for 13-15 year olds
- New Jersey – 4 year gap for 13-17 year olds
- Texas – 3 year gap for 14-16 year olds
Some states like Iowa allow defendants to use a close-in-age defense regardless of the victim’s age. Meanwhile, about 10 states have no Romeo and Juliet laws at all.
Overall, Louisiana offers less flexibility for consensual underage sex than most other states. But there is still some leeway in charging decisions.
In real cases, Louisiana’s Romeo and Juliet provisions give prosecutors some discretion. For example, an 18-year-old having sex with a consenting 16-year-old could be charged with felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile. But prosecutors might decide to use the misdemeanor provision or not charge at all.
However, defendants should not rely on these defenses. Judges and juries make the final decisions, and may choose harsher penalties even if the law allows more leniency.
Public Policy Considerations
Policymakers in Louisiana could consider several factors if re-evaluating the state’s Romeo and Juliet laws:
- Should defenses apply based on age gap or specific ages?
- Should protections extend below age 13?
- Should laws cover sexual acts beyond intercourse?
- Do provisions reflect public views on underage sex?
There are reasonable arguments on both sides as to whether Louisiana’s current laws strike the right balance.
Louisiana does provide some limited Romeo and Juliet defenses for consensual underage sex. But these laws are relatively narrow compared to many other states.
Anyone considering a sexual relationship with a minor in Louisiana needs to be aware of the strict age of consent and limited legal protections. Consult an attorney to understand the risks and defense options.
There are fair debates around statutory rape laws and age of consent. Louisiana lawmakers have taken a more restrictive approach than other states. But these remain complex issues with reasonable perspectives on both sides.