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Romeo and Juliet Laws South Carolina

March 21, 2024

Romeo and Juliet Laws in South Carolina

Romeo and Juliet laws, also known as close-in-age exemptions, are laws that protect teenagers and young adults from prosecution for engaging in consensual sexual activity with a minor. These laws recognize that adolescents often explore their sexuality with one another, and aim to prevent harsh punishments for normal teenage relationships. However, South Carolina does not have a Romeo and Juliet law on the books. This means that any person aged 16 or older who engages in sexual activity with a minor can face prosecution for statutory rape, even if the relationship is consensual. Let’s take a closer look at South Carolina’s statutory rape laws and the debate around implementing Romeo and Juliet protections.

South Carolina Statutory Rape Laws

In South Carolina, the age of consent is 16 years old. This means that anyone aged 16 or older can legally consent to sexual activity. If a person aged 16 or older has sex with a person under 16, they have committed statutory rape. South Carolina criminal law defines statutory rape as “sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years of age.” This applies even if the sexual contact is consensual between two teenagers. Statutory rape is punishable by up to 20 years in prison in South Carolina.

There are no exceptions to South Carolina’s statutory rape laws based on age proximity. In many other states, Romeo and Juliet laws create exemptions for consensual teenage relationships where the individuals are close in age. But South Carolina has no such provisions. A 16-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old has technically committed statutory rape. While prosecutors rarely press charges in these situations, the possibility exists under the law.

The Debate Around Romeo and Juliet Laws in SC

Currently, there is debate in South Carolina around whether the state should implement Romeo and Juliet laws. These provisions would create close-in-age exemptions to provide protections for consensual teenage relationships. Proponents argue that Romeo and Juliet laws would prevent the unjust criminalization of high school relationships where the individuals are close in age. They point out that statutory rape laws are meant to protect minors from predatory adults – not punish teenagers exploring intimacy with their peers. Many believe that criminal charges for normal adolescent relationships do more harm than good.

However, opponents argue that any exceptions to statutory rape laws send the wrong message and provide loopholes for sexual predators. They believe strict enforcement of age of consent is necessary to protect minors, even if that means some consensual teenage couples get caught in the crosshairs. Some worry that Romeo and Juliet laws could enable predatory adults to claim their relationship with a minor was consensual. Overall, there are good-faith arguments on both sides of this issue.

Potential Romeo and Juliet Provisions

If South Carolina did implement Romeo and Juliet laws, what might they look like? Based on other states, there are a few common provisions:

  • Reduced or dismissed penalties when the minor is within a certain age range of the statutory rape defendant. For example, no penalty when the minor is within 3 years of age.
  • Affirmative defense that the defendant reasonably believed the minor was over the age of consent based on their statements or conduct.
  • Exceptions to sex offender registry requirements for statutory rape convictions when the minor was within a certain age range.

These types of close-in-age exemptions aim to avoid harsh punishments for consensual adolescent relationships. However, opponents argue they create ambiguity in statutory rape enforcement and enable manipulation by predators.

Practical Implications

While the debate continues around Romeo and Juliet laws in South Carolina, the current reality is there are no such provisions. What does this mean in practice?

Any person aged 16 or older who engages in sexual contact with a person under 16 has committed statutory rape. There are no exceptions based on age proximity. Prosecutors have full discretion on whether to press charges in individual cases. Factors like the specific ages of the parties, whether the relationship was consensual, and the maturity levels involved will come into play. But technically, any sexual contact with a person under 16 constitutes statutory rape.

For teenagers close in age, the most common scenario is that no charges will be filed if the relationship was consensual. Prosecutors tend to focus resources on cases involving predatory adults or abusive relationships. However, there is always the possibility of prosecution. Teenagers and their parents should be aware of potential penalties.

For young adults over 18, the risks increase. An 18-year-old who has a consensual relationship with a 15-year-old is committing statutory rape. These situations have a higher chance of prosecution, although factors like parental consent can come into play. Young adults should be very cautious about engaging sexually with minors in South Carolina.

Defenses to Statutory Rape

If an individual is charged with statutory rape in South Carolina, there are several possible defenses:

  • The sexual contact did not actually occur.
  • The minor lied about their age and the defendant reasonably believed they were 16 or older.
  • The defendant was legally married to the minor.
  • The sexual activity was medically necessary.
  • The defendant was within 3 years of age of the minor and the relationship was consensual. (This is not an official defense in SC but can persuade prosecutors to drop the charges).

The most common statutory rape defense involves the defendant reasonably believing the minor was over 16 based on their explicit statements or conduct. Defendants may argue they met the minor in an adults-only venue, saw a fake ID, or were directly told the minor’s age. However, mistakes do not provide a full legal defense to statutory rape in South Carolina.


Here are some key takeaways about Romeo and Juliet laws in South Carolina:

  • South Carolina does not currently have Romeo and Juliet laws – there are no close-in-age exemptions to statutory rape.
  • Any person 16 or older who has sex with a person under 16 has committed statutory rape, even if the relationship is consensual.
  • There is debate around implementing Romeo and Juliet provisions to prevent prosecution of consensual teenage couples.
  • Teenagers and young adults should be very cautious about sexual contact with minors given the strict statutory rape laws.
  • Defendants have limited defenses, usually relying on mistaken age or lack of sexual contact.

The statutory rape laws in South Carolina are complex. Anyone facing charges should seek guidance from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Legal counsel can evaluate defense options and advocate for an appropriate resolution given the specific circumstances.

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