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Romeo and Juliet Laws Rhode Island

March 21, 2024

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Rhode Island

Romeo and Juliet Laws in Rhode Island

Rhode Island, like many other states, has laws on the books known as “Romeo and Juliet” laws. These laws are designed to prevent young people who are close in age from being prosecuted for statutory rape when they engage in consensual sexual activity. Let’s take a closer look at how these laws work in Rhode Island.

What is Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape is when one person is below the age of consent and engages in sexual activity with someone who is legally old enough to consent. The age of consent in Rhode Island is 16 years old. This means anyone 15 or younger cannot legally consent to sexual activity. If someone 18 or older has sex with a 15-year-old, they are committing statutory rape.

Statutory rape charges often carry heavy penalties. For example, third-degree sexual assault (statutory rape) in Rhode Island can result in up to 5 years in prison.

Close-in-Age Exemptions

This is where Romeo and Juliet laws come in. Rhode Island has “close-in-age exemptions” that provide protections for consensual sexual relationships between minors who are close in age. For example, a 17-year-old high school senior could legally date a 15-year-old high school sophomore without fear of prosecution.

Specifically, Rhode Island law states that people between the ages of 14 and 18 who engage in consensual sexual activity are not committing a crime as long as there is no more than a 3-year age difference between them.

So a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old, or a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old, would fall under this protection. However, a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old would not be protected.

Other Close-in-Age Exemptions

Rhode Island also has close-in-age exemptions for younger teens:

  • 12- and 13-year-olds can consent to sexual activity with a partner who is no more than 2 years older.
  • Children under 12 can consent to sexual activity with a partner who is no more than 3 years older.

However, these activities must still be consensual and voluntary. If coercion or force is involved, it is considered sexual assault or child molestation.

Romeo and Juliet Laws Protect Teen Relationships

The main purpose of Rhode Island’s Romeo and Juliet laws is to protect consensual sexual relationships between teens who are close in age. For example, an 18-year-old high school senior and his 15-year-old girlfriend should not have to worry about statutory rape charges, provided their relationship is healthy and consensual.

Many feel it is unreasonable to classify consensual teen relationships as sex offenses when there are only a few years between partners. Romeo and Juliet laws aim to avoid branding teens as sex offenders for typical adolescent relationships.

Requirements for Protection

For the close-in-age exemptions to apply, the sexual contact must be completely consensual. There can be no force, threats, or coercion involved. Both partners must be willing participants.

In addition, Romeo and Juliet laws generally only apply to sexual intercourse and sexual contact. Things like sexting, sharing explicit images, or voyeurism may still be considered child pornography or corruption of a minor.

Penalties for Violating Romeo and Juliet Laws

If the close-in-age exemptions don’t apply, violators can face statutory rape penalties. As mentioned earlier, third-degree sexual assault carries up to 5 years in prison in Rhode Island.

First and second-degree sexual assault charges can result in even longer sentences. Those convictions can also lead to sex offender registration, which brings additional restrictions and monitoring.

Romeo and Juliet Laws Vary by State

It’s important to remember that Romeo and Juliet exemptions vary considerably by state. The close-in-age exceptions are different in each state, as are the statutory rape charges themselves.

For example, some states set the age of consent at 17 or 18. And some states have no Romeo and Juliet provisions at all. So it’s crucial to be aware of the specific laws where you live.

Consult an Attorney if Facing Charges

If you or a loved one are facing charges related to statutory rape, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney can help explain how Rhode Island’s Romeo and Juliet laws apply to your specific situation.

They can also advise you on potential defenses that may be available, such as:

  • The defendant reasonably believed the minor was old enough to consent
  • The sexual contact did not actually occur
  • The accuser is not credible or has made false accusations in the past

With an attorney’s guidance, certain defendants may be able to get charges reduced or even dismissed. Do not wait to seek legal help. The sooner you take action, the better.

Romeo and Juliet Laws Are Complex

As you can see, Romeo and Juliet laws in Rhode Island and elsewhere are quite nuanced. Determining whether your particular situation falls within a close-in-age exemption can be tricky.

There are a lot of specifics to consider, like exactly how old each person is, the type of sexual activity that occurred, and whether the contact was truly consensual. An experienced attorney can assess the details and fight statutory rape charges when appropriate.

Avoiding Statutory Rape Charges

The best way for teens and young adults to avoid statutory rape charges is to be aware of Rhode Island’s age of consent laws and close-in-age exemptions. Although it may seem unfair at times, following the law is the safest approach.

It’s also wise to avoid sexual contact with anyone who is significantly younger or less mature, even if it’s technically legal. Sticking to partners who are close in age is a good rule of thumb.

Of course, any sexual activity should be consensual and without coercion. Respect your partner’s boundaries and don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with or unsure about. Healthy relationships involve open communication, mutual understanding, and freedom to say no.

The Purpose of Age of Consent Laws

While they seem strict and limiting, age of consent laws are intended to protect young people from exploitation. The logic is that teens below a certain age lack the maturity and judgment to fully consent to sexual activity, especially with much older partners.

There are good reasons for these laws, considering the potential for manipulation, peer pressure, and uneven power dynamics in such relationships. However, close-in-age exemptions also recognize that consensual teen relationships are developmentally normal.

Romeo and Juliet laws aim to strike a balance between protecting young people and allowing for normal adolescent relationships. But the intricacies of these laws can be confusing, so be sure you understand the rules in your state.


Rhode Island has close-in-age exemptions, known as Romeo and Juliet laws, to protect consensual sexual relationships between teens who are no more than 3 years apart in age. These provisions are meant to avoid unfairly prosecuting and penalizing normal adolescent relationships.

However, statutory rape charges are still possible if the exemptions don’t apply. Given the complexity of Rhode Island’s laws, it’s important to be aware of the specifics or consult an attorney if necessary. Understanding Romeo and Juliet laws can help teens and young adults make responsible choices and avoid legal repercussions.


[1] https://www.thomasianlaw.com/blog/2019/september/what-is-the-age-of-consent-in-rhode-island-/

[2] https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/rhode-island-age-of-consent-lawyers.html

[3] https://www.ageofconsent.net/states/rhode-island

[4] https://www.rhumphreylaw.com/sex-crimes-defense/statutory-rape/

[5] https://www.aggressivelegalservices.com/sexual-assault-rhode-island/

[6] https://apps.rainn.org/policy/policy-crime-definitions-export.cfm?group=9&state=Rhode+Island

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