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Romeo and Juliet Laws Minnesota

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Minnesota – Do They Protect Teens or Endanger Them?

St. Paul, MN – When an 18-year-old high school senior dates a 15-year-old sophomore, should this be a crime? To avoid criminalizing teen relationships, many states have passed so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws providing defenses against statutory rape charges if the participants are close in age. But some argue Minnesota’s laws go too far in decriminalizing teen sex. Do they do more harm than good?

What Are Romeo and Juliet Laws?

Romeo and Juliet laws are meant to provide defenses or reduced penalties for statutory rape in cases where the participants are close in age. The intent is to avoid punishing consensual teen relationships as harshly as adult molestation of children.

Minnesota’s Romeo and Juliet Provisions

Minnesota doesn’t have one single Romeo and Juliet law. Rather, protections are built into the overall statutory rape laws through age thresholds and mitigated punishments. For example:

  • Sex with a minor under 13 is illegal regardless of age differences.
  • Sex with a minor 13-15 is a felony unless the offender is under 24.
  • Sex with a minor 16-17 is a misdemeanor if the offender is under 24.

So while sex with minors is illegal, there are graduated penalties if the ages are close.

Debating Romeo and Juliet Laws

Supporters argue the laws strike a fair balance. They point out:

  • Teen relationships shouldn’t be overcriminalized.
  • The laws focus penalties on true predators.
  • They prevent harsh punishments for normal teen exploration.
  • Older teens likely have similar maturity as partners.

However, opponents believe the laws are misguided. Their concerns include:

  • Any statutory rape exception endangers minors.
  • Even small age gaps can be manipulative.
  • Maturity differences matter more than raw age.
  • It sends a message that teen sex is okay.

Examining Specific Cases

Looking at how the laws have played out highlights the complexities. For instance:

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  • A 23-year-old was convicted for sex with a 15-year-old despite claiming a Romeo and Juliet defense.
  • But a 19-year-old was acquitted for sex with a 17-year-old since they were “peers.”

These mixed results show judges still have discretion on whether to apply Romeo and Juliet protections.

Options for Reform

If policymakers re-examined the laws, here are some possible changes:

  • Narrow age gaps to 1-2 years only.
  • Expand age gaps to 6-10 years.
  • Eliminate all exceptions and prosecute statutory rape uniformly.
  • Raise the general age of consent from 16 to 17 or 18.

Each approach has trade-offs regarding protecting minors versus fairness to young offenders.


Minnesota’s Romeo and Juliet laws try to strike a balance but remain controversial. Perhaps the debate reflects larger social ambivalence about teen sex. But lawmakers have an obligation to continually reassess these laws and their impacts on youth.


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