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Romeo and Juliet Laws Oregon

March 21, 2024

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Oregon

Romeo and Juliet laws are provisions that reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for young people who engage in consensual sexual activity with someone under the age of consent. These laws are intended to prevent older teenagers and young adults from being prosecuted as sex offenders when they have consensual relationships with someone close in age.

Oregon does not have a Romeo and Juliet law. This means that anyone under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to sexual activity, regardless of the age of their partner. Even if the relationship is consensual, charges can still be filed against both parties for statutory rape. Some advocates have pushed for Oregon to adopt a Romeo and Juliet exemption, but so far no law has been passed.

Oregon Age of Consent Laws

The age of consent in Oregon is 18 years old. This is the age at which an individual can legally consent to sexual activity with someone over the age of 18. Any person under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to sex, and any sexual contact with them may be charged as statutory rape.

Here are some key points about Oregon’s age of consent laws:

  • The age of consent is 18 years old.
  • There is no close-in-age exemption for consensual sexual contact.
  • It is possible for two minors under 18 who willingly engage in intercourse to both be charged with statutory rape.
  • Sexual relations between a 17-year-old and an 18 or 19-year-old can still be prosecuted.

Violating the age of consent laws can lead to serious criminal charges in Oregon:

  • Third-degree rape (class C felony) – up to 5 years in prison
  • Second-degree rape (class B felony) – up to 10 years in prison
  • First-degree rape (class A felony) – up to 20 years in prison

Arguments For and Against Romeo and Juliet Laws

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue when it comes to adopting Romeo and Juliet exemptions in Oregon:

Arguments For Romeo and Juliet Laws

  • Prevents overly harsh punishments for consensual teen relationships.
  • Acknowledges that teens often engage in sexual activity before age 18.
  • Avoids unfairly labeling teens as sex offenders.
  • Gives prosecutors discretion to reduce charges in appropriate cases.

For example, an 18-year-old high school senior could legally date a 17-year-old junior under a Romeo and Juliet law. Without such a provision, the 18-year-old could be charged with statutory rape even if the relationship is consensual.

Arguments Against Romeo and Juliet Laws

  • Any sexual contact under 18 is not legally consensual.
  • May encourage older teens to prey on younger teens.
  • Arbitrary age limits are difficult to determine.
  • Prosecutors already have discretion to reduce charges.

For instance, a 19-year-old dating a 16-year-old could be seen as predatory. Setting an age gap, like 3 years, may seem arbitrary and difficult to codify into clear statutory language.

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Other States

Many states have adopted Romeo and Juliet laws to provide defenses or mitigated penalties in certain situations. Here are some examples:

  • California – No more than 3 years age gap if under 18.
  • Connecticut – 3 year gap if between 13-17 years old.
  • Florida – No more than 4 year gap if under 18.
  • Texas – 3 year gap if between 14-17 years old.

Each state sets its own requirements regarding the acceptable age difference. Some states also specify that one person must be under the age of consent, while the other must be within a certain age range over the age of consent.

The Debate in Oregon

There have been efforts in Oregon’s legislature to add Romeo and Juliet protections to the state’s statutory rape laws. In 2007, a bill was introduced by Representative Chip Shields to create a new crime of “teen lascivious conduct” that would reduce penalties for consensual sexual relationships between teens.

The proposed law would have made teen lascivious conduct a misdemeanor rather than a felony. There would be no penalties if the teens are within 3 years of age, and reduced penalties if they are within 5 years. The bill did not pass, but could potentially be reintroduced in the future.

Opponents argued that the bill seemed to condone sexual relationships between minors. They also said it would make it more difficult to prosecute sexual predators who prey on young teens. Supporters of the bill contended that it would bring Oregon in line with many other states and allow prosecutors to focus on true predatory behavior.

Defenses to Statutory Rape

In Oregon, statutory rape charges can be defended against using some of the following strategies:

  • Consent – Argue the victim consented to the sexual contact, even if under 18.
  • Mistake of age – Claim you reasonably believed the minor was over 18.
  • Romeo and Juliet – Not a valid defense in Oregon currently.
  • No sexual contact – Argue no prohibited sexual acts occurred.

While consent and mistake of age can potentially be used as defenses, they are unlikely to result in full dismissal of charges. The prosecution simply has to prove the victim was under 18 to secure a conviction in most cases.


Statutory rape laws are designed to protect minors from sexual exploitation. But overly strict enforcement can sometimes lead to unjust punishments. Romeo and Juliet exemptions try to strike a balance by giving prosecutors some discretion based on the facts of each case.

There are good arguments on both sides as to whether Oregon should adopt a close-in-age exemption. Ultimately, legislators and citizens will need to weigh how best to shape the law. Reasonable people can disagree on where to draw the line between protecting teens and providing mercy in appropriate situations.

If you or a loved one has been accused of statutory rape in Oregon, it is critical to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney can help assess your options and develop the strongest defense to mitigate penalties if charges are filed.

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