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Romeo and Juliet Law Takes Effect in Texas
The term "sex offender" conjures different images or meanings for different people. For those accused of sex crimes, it might bring to mind thoughts of lifetime registration on local sex-offender registries and social stigma. For others, the term might mean older adults who have had inappropriate contact with minors or of people who have committed forcible sex crimes against other adults.
The term sex offender, however, rarely brings to mind teenagers who have engaged in consensual sexual relations. Until recently, teenagers or young adults convicted of sex crimes in connection with such a relationship, most often with their high school boyfriend or girlfriend, were labeled as and required to register as sex offenders.
Texas' Old Law
Under Texas' old law, if two teenagers under age 17 were engaging in consensual sexual relations, no law was being broken as long as the teens were within 3 years of age of each other. However, as soon as one of the teens turned 17, the older partner could be charged with statutory rape. If convicted, the teen would be required to register as a sex offender.
With no exemptions from registering as a sex offender, it was possible under the old law for two teens, one 17-years-old and the other 16-years-old, in the same high school class, to have sexual relations with the outcome that the older of the two was labeled a sex offender.
Romeo and Juliet Law
On September 1, 2011, a new law took effect in Texas that keeps teenagers and young adults from being labeled sex offenders for engaging in consensual sexual relations with a teenager under the age of 17. The law - often referred to as a "Romeo and Juliet" law - is designed to exempt teenagers and young adults from being labeled as sex offenders and having to register as sex offenders simply because their consenting partner is under age 17.
This exemption only applies if consensual sexual relations are had between a teenager or young adult over the age of 17 and a teenager under the age of 17, but there is no more than a four-year age difference between the two young people. Additionally, the purported "victim" of the sexual encounter must be at least 15 years of age for the Romeo and Juliet law to apply.
It should be noted that the new Romeo and Juliet law will only exempt the accused from registering as a sex offender, but it will not prevent the adult individual from facing charges for an underlying crime such as statutory rape.
For young people already required to register as sex offenders following consensual sexual encounters with teenagers under 17-years-old under the previous law, the new law permits them to petition courts to review of their cases. To determine whether the relationship between the petitioner and the "victim" was consensual, courts will hold hearings to review the testimony and evidence of the cases against the petitioners. Also, courts will determine if the petitioner is a "threat" to the public; if not, and if the facts of the cases allow, petitioners will be exempt from future sex offender registration requirements.
The Change in Law
The Romeo and Juliet law, introduced by Rep. Todd Smith (R-Euless) and Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), was signed by the governor and enacted after its second introduction to the Texas Legislature. In 2009, a similar bill passed both houses of the Texas Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry. According to Governor Perry, the vetoed version of the Romeo and Juliet law did not "adequately protect young victims" because it had a lower threshold age for the purported victim of 13-years-old.
For the most part, sex-offender registries are intended to keep local authorities and the public aware of the locations of sexual predators whom the state feels may pose a safety risk to the public - they are not intended to encompass teenagers who engage in consensual sex.
According to News West 9, Stephen Stallings, a Midland County Assistant District Attorney, stated that the Romeo and Juliet law "is meant to distinguish between sexual predators and teens who simply made a mistake."
Teenagers and others labeled as sex offenders could face a lifetime of registration as such and many other consequences, including difficulty in finding employment and housing, the inability to spend time with young family members or attend their children's school activities, and negative social stigma.
Therefore, for teens and young adults facing the possibility of or already required to register as sex offenders, Texas' Romeo and Juliet law provides an opportunity for a productive future. If you or a loved one has already been required to register as a sex offender for engaging in consensual sexual relations with a partner under the age of 17 and may fit the requirements of the new law, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney about petitioning for a case review and possibly having the sex offender registration requirement removed.Click Here For Your Free Case Evaluation