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Romeo and Juliet Laws Colorado

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Colorado

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Colorado

In Colorado, the age of consent for sexual activity is 17 years old. This means any person 17 or older can legally consent to sex. However, Colorado also has limited Romeo and Juliet laws that provide close-in-age exemptions for certain consensual underage relationships.

Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet provisions offer some protections for young adults who engage in sexual activity with a minor. But the defenses have strict requirements and limitations.

Background of Romeo and Juliet Laws

Romeo and Juliet laws are named after Shakespeare’s tragic young lovers. They provide legal defenses for defendants charged with statutory rape for consensual acts with a minor.

The intent is to avoid criminalizing underage couples who willingly engage in sexual relationships. These laws recognize that adolescents often experiment sexually before turning 18.

Colorado passed its Romeo and Juliet provisions in 2016 to allow some flexibility in statutory rape cases.

Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet Provisions

Colorado has two laws that provide limited defenses for certain consensual underage sex:

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  1. Sexual assault – Applies if the victim is 15 years old and the defendant is no more than 4 years older.
  2. Unlawful sexual contact – Applies if the victim is 14-15 years old and the defendant is less than 10 years older.

However, these defenses only reduce the level of felony, they do not legalize the sexual activity.

Limits of Colorado’s Laws

Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet provisions have strict limits:

  • No defense for victims under 14 years old
  • 4 year maximum age gap for 15 year olds
  • 10 year gap for 14-15 year olds
  • Only reduces charges, doesn’t legalize acts

So while Colorado offers some protections, they are relatively narrow compared to many states.

Debate Over Romeo and Juliet Laws

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

Supporters argue:

  • Avoid unfairly punishing teen relationships
  • Acknowledge reality that teens 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 involves weighing safety concerns against fairness. Reasonable people can debate where to draw the line.

Comparison to Neighboring States

Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet provisions offer less flexibility than some nearby states:

  • New Mexico – 4 year age gap allowed for 13-16 year olds
  • Arizona – 3 year gap permitted for 13-17 year olds
  • Utah – 7 year gap allowed if minor is 16-17

So Colorado’s close-in-age exemptions are relatively limited regionally.

Practical Applications

In practice, Colorado’s laws give prosecutors some discretion over charges for underage consensual relationships. For example:

  • A 15-year-old with an 18-year-old may face reduced charges
  • A 14-year-old with a 23-year-old could still be prosecuted

But statutory rape charges are still possible regardless of ages. The provisions only allow charges to be reduced, not eliminated.

Public Policy Considerations

Some argue Colorado should expand its Romeo and Juliet laws to increase flexibility and avoid disproportionate penalties…


[1] Does Colorado Have a “Romeo And Juliet” Law?

[2] Romeo and Juliet Law in Colorado

[3] Romeo & Juliet Law in Colorado

[4] Romeo And Juliet Law Colorado

[5] A Horse of A Different Color: English Composition and Rhetoric

[6] Nonfiction Writing Advice

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