Who Qualifies Under the Romeo and Juliet Law?

Many states implement a Romeo and Juliet law addressing underage individuals engaged in consensual sexual relations. In today’s blog, we discuss Florida’s specific Romeo and Juliet law’s removal of the sex offender registration requirement, who may be eligible for petitioning under this statute, and disqualifications for requests.

What Does the Romeo and Juliet Law Do?

Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” law was first introduced in 2007 to address concerns about high school age youth being labeled as sexual offenders or sexual predators for participating in a consensual sexual relationship as individuals under the legal age of consent (18 years old).. The stigma and consequences of being classified as a sex offender can have lifelong impacts affecting things such as:

  • an offender’s future employment opportunities,
  • an offender’s ability to attend their own child’s school functions, and
  • where an offender can live.

Further, note that the sex offender registry does not distinguish between young “Romeo and Juliet” sex offenders who had consensual sex and older offenders who have harmed children and do pose a real risk to society. As a result, it may be a harsh consequence to require registration as a sex offender for having sexual relations with someone under the age of 18 while themselves being under the age of 18. For example, prior to the passage of the “Romeo and Juliet” law, if a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old were engaged in a consensual sexual relationship, the 18 year-old was subject to registration as a sexual offender and could not petition the court for removal of the requirement to register for 20 years after the completion of their sentence. Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” law, however, creates a mechanism for this group of offenders to file a motion or petition in state court for removal of the registration requirement if they meet certain criteria.

Who Can Petition Under the Romeo and Juliet Law?

The statute provides a process allowing a motion or petition for removal of the requirement to register as a sexual offender for qualifying “Romeo and Juliet” offenders who meet specific criteria. Most notably:

  • the alleged victim must be at least 14 years old,
  • the offender must be no more than years older than the victim at the time of the offense, and
  • the victim must have consented to the sexual conduct.

Qualifying offenses for consideration of registration relief by the court fall under the statutes covering sexual battery (s. 794.011, F.S.), lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age (s. 800.04. F.S.), sexual performance by a child (s. 827.071, F.S.11), or certain prohibited computer transmissions (s. 847.0135(5), F.S.12).

Be aware that the Romeo and Juliet law only addresses an offender’s registry requirement and does not make any of the above qualifying offenses legal. The sexual conduct associated with these offenses is still a crime when the victim is 15 years of age or younger, even if both of the participants are minors and the act was consensual. For minors ages 16-17, though, the statute provides an age-gap provision that allows a 16- or 17-year-old to legally consent to sexual conduct with a person 16-23 years of age. Also, note that the fact that an offender may not have known the age of the victim or the victim portrayed themselves to be older cannot be used as a defense to prosecution. However, these facts can be offered at sentencing as mitigation for the court’s consideration.

Under the provisions in the statute, an offender is limited to 1 motion or petition. If the court does not grant the motion or petition, the offender has to wait until 25 years after completion of their sentence before they can petition the court again under the Romeo and Juliet law.

When Might Petitions Not Be Granted?

There is no definitive way to determine exactly why a motion or petition for relief may not have been granted by the courts. Some state attorneys have indicated that one reason a judge might deny a petition would be if the offender did not meet the criteria of the statute or if the state attorney objected. It is also possible that even if the offender appeared to meet the criteria of the statute, their request may be denied due to the following reasons:

  • the defendant’s criminal history,
  • evidence of similar uncharged/non-arrested behavior,
  • the situation appeared more coercive than consensual,
  • offender provided drugs or alcohol to the victim,
  • parents or others previously warned the defendant to stay away from the victim,
  • defendant had multiple charged and uncharged relationships with minors,
  • offender “targeted” the under-age victim on web or chat room, or
  • the offender was in a position of authority over the victim.

Seek an Experienced Attorney for Legal Support

Florida has a Romeo and Juliet law in place that addresses the sex offender registration requirement of sex-related offenses. If you or your child engaged in consensual sexual relations with someone under the age of 18, this statute can alleviate some of the consequences of underage sexual offenses, such as removing the sex offender registration requirement that can have detrimental affects on an individual’s future. Speak with an experienced attorney about your case to determine your next steps to file a petition for removing the registration requirement.

Contact The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A. for more information on your case.

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