Does Florida have Romeo and Juliet laws? After all, not every state does. Fortunately, Florida is one of the states that does have such a law. Imagine two high school students who commence a dating relationship.
The 18-year-old female gets pregnant and DNA evidence proves that her 17-year old boyfriend is the father. The police then proceed to arrest the female, charge her with statutory rape, and ultimately require her to publicly register as a sex offender.
Does this sound a bit harsh? Well, the punishment described above would be mandatory in Florida, but for two exceptions to the statutory rape law. One of these exceptions is the Florida Romeo and Juliet law. But a certain amount of background is required to understand the significance of the Florida Romeo and Juliet law, so let’s begin.
The Age of Consent
All US states set a legal age of consent for sexual relations. Regardless of the presence or absence of consent, all sex with anyone below this age is considered rape unless a specific exception applies. In the US, the age of consent varies from 16 to 18 depending on the state. In Florida, the age of consent is 18 subject to certain exceptions.
How Florida’s Statutory Rape Law Works
As stated above, in Florida it is generally illegal to have sexual relations with anyone who is under 18 years of age. However, it gets complicated because sexual intercourse is not the only prohibited act. It is illegal to engage in other types of sexual conduct upon or in the presence of anyone under 16. Even certain computer transmissions are illegal.
Imagine a 15-year-old girl using her cell phone to send a topless photo of herself to her 17-year-old boyfriend. This is a crime in Florida, and the boyfriend also commits a crime if he views the image and then intentionally fails to delete it from his phone.
Exception for Minors Aged 16 and 17
For minors ages 16-17, Florida allows an important exception to prosecution: a 16- or 17-year-old (male or female) can consent to have sex with someone between the ages of 16 and 23. In this situation, the older partner is not breaking the law any more than the younger partner is. This law is not the Florida Romeo and Juliet law, but it does provide important context
“But Your Honor, I Had No Idea How Young She Was”
The harshness of Florida’s statutory rape laws is particularly evident in its strict liability nature. Someone charged with statutory rape cannot plead lack of intent or knowledge as a defense. In other words, the claim that the defendant didn’t realize the victim was underage is no defense. It is no defense even if the younger partner appeared to be older than the age of consent, and even if the younger partner presented a convincing-looking fake ID to the defendant. Circumstances like these, however, can result in a more lenient sentence.
Sex Offender Registration
There are numerous sexual offenses other than statutory rape that trigger the requirement to register as a sex offender. If Florida convicts you of an offense that requires sex offender registration, you must:
- Register with Florida local authorities several times a year;
- Report to the local police every time you enter a new Florida county;
- Inform the police of any travel plans through other Florida counties;
- Update your personal information every year;
- Report plans to move or to travel out of state; and
- Comply with many other requirements.
Florida Statute 943.0435 discusses this issue in more detail.
Understanding the Romeo and Juliet Law in Florida
The Romeo and Juliet law in Florida does not exonerate someone charged with statutory rape. An offender can still go to prison. All the Romeo and Juliet law does is allow the offender to petition the court to relieve them of the requirement to register as a sex offender. The court may grant or deny the request at its own discretion. Factors that a judge might consider include:
- The offender’s criminal record;
- Evidence of similar behavior in the past, even without a previous conviction;
- Whether the offender provided intoxicants to the victim;
- Whether the offender targeted the victim on the internet; or
- Whether the offender held a position of authority over the victim.
A judge can consider many other factors as well. If the judge denies the request, the defendant must wait at least another 25 years before submitting a second petition.
Take Action Now
If you or a loved one is facing prosecution for a sexual offense, you likely have many questions and concerns. We can look at your case and help walk you through the complex laws surrounding sexual offenses, and protect your rights throughout this challenging process. Call Moses and Rooth at 407-531-8694 or contact us online for a free initial consultation. We have over 36 years of combined experience in representing criminal defendants, and we are eager to put that experience to work for you.