NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 01:03 am
Romeo and Juliet Laws in Maine
In Maine, as in many other states, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years old. This means that anyone 16 or older can legally consent to have sex with anyone else aged 16 or older. However, Maine also has a close-in-age exemption, commonly known as a “Romeo and Juliet” law, that allows some leeway for consensual sexual activity between minors who are close in age.
Specifically, Maine’s Romeo and Juliet law provides an affirmative defense against prosecution for certain sex offenses if the victim is at least 14 years old and the defendant is less than 5 years older. This close-in-age exemption aims to avoid criminalizing consensual sexual relationships between young people who are close in age and prevent older teens or young adults from being unfairly prosecuted as sex offenders.
Background of Romeo and Juliet Laws
Romeo and Juliet laws, also known as close-in-age exemptions, are intended to prevent the prosecution of underage couples who willingly engage in consensual sex, especially if one or both partners are close to the age of consent. The name comes from Shakespeare’s young lovers Romeo and Juliet, who were teenagers whose relationship was forbidden by their feuding families.
Many states began passing Romeo and Juliet laws in the 1970s and 1980s as part of reforms to statutory rape laws. Some states set a specific age difference, like Maine’s limit of less than 5 years. Others simply say the defendant must be close in age to the victim.
Maine’s Romeo and Juliet Law
Maine’s Romeo and Juliet law is found in Title 17-A, Section 254 of Maine Revised Statutes. It provides an affirmative defense to certain sex crimes:
It is a defense that the actor reasonably believed the other person is at least 16 years of age.
This defense applies to the following criminal charges:
- Sexual abuse of a minor (victim under 14)
- Unlawful sexual contact (victim under 14)
- Visual sexual aggression against a child (victim under 14)
- Sexual misconduct with a child under 12
- Solicitation of a child under 14 to engage in prostitution
However, the Romeo and Juliet defense has some limitations. It only applies if the victim is at least 14 years old and the defendant is less than 5 years older. There is no close-in-age exemption for victims under 14.
For example, if a 15-year-old willingly has sex with an 18-year-old, the 18-year-old could try to use the Romeo and Juliet defense if charged with sexual abuse of a minor. But if a 13-year-old has sex with an 18-year-old, the defense would not apply because the victim is under 14.
Comparison to Other States
Maine’s Romeo and Juliet law is more limited than some other states. For example, Connecticut’s close-in-age exemption applies if the victim is between 13-16 and the defendant is no more than 3 years older. In Kansas, the Romeo and Juliet law provides a defense if the victim is 14-16 and the offender is under 19.
A few states like Texas and Utah don’t have any Romeo and Juliet exemptions. The age of consent is simply 17 or 18 with no defenses for consensual underage sex. Meanwhile, some states like Iowa allow a close-in-age defense regardless of the victim’s age.
Overall, Maine’s law is middle-of-the-road. It provides more protection than states without any Romeo and Juliet provision. But it is more restrictive than states that set a wider permitted age gap or don’t set a specific age difference.
Debate Over Romeo and Juliet Laws
There is debate over whether Romeo and Juliet laws strike the right balance between protecting young people and avoiding overly harsh punishment. Supporters argue they prevent disproportionate penalties for consensual sexual relationships between young people.
But critics contend Romeo and Juliet laws can still allow older teens to take advantage of younger ones. They argue statutory rape laws should be strictly enforced based on age, not mitigated by close-in-age defenses. Both sides make reasonable points in this complex issue.
Practical Effects in Maine
In practice, Maine’s Romeo and Juliet law gives some discretion to prosecutors and judges. If an 18-year-old is arrested for having sex with a 15-year-old, prosecutors can consider if it seems to be a predatory or non-consensual situation versus a mutually agreed relationship between young people. The close-in-age defense allows flexibility for borderline cases.
However, there are still risks. The Romeo and Juliet defense is not guaranteed to succeed. Prosecutors may still bring charges, and judges or juries may reject the defense. Defendants should consult with an attorney to understand their options and risks based on the specific circumstances.
Public Policy Considerations
From a public policy perspective, Maine’s law aims to balance competing objectives. The goals are to:
- Set an age of consent to protect minors from exploitation
- Avoid criminalizing consensual teen relationships
- Prevent older teens from taking advantage of younger ones
- Allow prosecutors and judges some discretion in borderline cases
Reasonable people can disagree on whether Maine’s current Romeo and Juliet law strikes the right equilibrium. Lawmakers could consider adjusting the permitted age gap, minimum victim age, or eligible offenses to better align with public priorities.
Romeo and Juliet laws like Maine’s aim to provide some protections for consensual underage relationships. But these close-in-age exemptions are still limited and leave risks. Anyone considering a sexual relationship with a minor should be aware of the law and consult with an attorney before moving forward.
Statutory rape issues involve a difficult balance between competing concerns. Maine has tried to strike a middle ground with its Romeo and Juliet law. But there are good-faith arguments on both sides of this complex public policy issue regarding age of consent.