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Understanding Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet Law: Age of Consent Issues

Like several US states, Colorado recognizes that the term “statutory rape” may not be applicable in many adolescent relationships. The Romeo and Juliet law aims to address situations where consensual sex occurs between adolescents who are close in age. In this blog post, we will explore Colorado’s statutory rape laws, explain the Romeo and Juliet exception, and delve into the legal considerations for relationships with varying age differences.

How Does Colorado Define Statutory Rape?

Statutory rape occurs when an individual has consensual sex with someone under the age of 17. Under Colorado law, an individual age 16 or younger is unable to provide consent to penetrative sex. Penetrative sex includes the following: vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, or any other sexual activity where penetration occurs.
Statutory rape falls in the realm of sexual assault and is charged in the same way as forcible rape. This is the case regardless of whether the underage individual consented to or even initiated the sexual act.

What Are the Penalties for Statutory Rape in Colorado?

The penalties for statutory rape vary depending on the age of both individuals involved and the gap in their ages. Some clearly defined situations include the following:
  • The child is younger than 15 and the defendant is at least 4 years older. This is considered sexual assault and is charged as a class 4 felony. Penalties can include 2-8 years of prison time, $2,000 to $500,000 in fines, and registration as a sex offender.
  • The child is 15 or 16 and the defendant is at least 10 years older. This is also considered sexual assault and is charged as either a class 6 felony or a class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties can include one year to 18 months of prison time, $1,000 to $100,000 in fines, and registration as a sex offender. However, the defendant can petition to remove the registration in this case.
Note that sexual assault on a child is a different charge than statutory rape, as it does not necessitate penetration. Instead, sexual assault on a child occurs when a defendant initiates or receives any sexual touching between themselves and a child under the age of 15. The defendant must be at least 4 years older than the child for this charge to apply.

What Is the Romeo and Juliet Law?

Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet law (also known as the close-in-age exception) holds that adolescents under the age of 17 can have consensual relations without it being considered a sexual offense. More specifically:
  • A child who is younger than 15 can have consensual sexual intercourse with an individual who is less than four years older than them. For example, a 14 year old can have sex with a 16 year old under the Romeo and Juliet exception.
  • Adolescents who are 15 or 16 can have consensual sexual intercourse with an individual who is less than 10 years older than them. For example, a 16 year old can have sex with a 25 year old under the Romeo and Juliet exception.
Please note that this exception only applies when the sexual activity is consensual. If penetration is forced, sexual assault charges may come into play regardless of the age of either person involved.

Why Does the Romeo and Juliet Law Exist?

The state of Colorado, as do many other states, recognizes that teenagers close in age are going to experiment with one another sexually, and many of these interactions do not necessitate severe legal consequences. The Romeo and Juliet exception exists to label these types of situations as legal.

Some Common Questions about Statutory Rape

What if the underage person wanted to have sex?
If a defendant has sex with someone younger than 17, and their ages do not fall within the close-in-age exception range, then this interaction will be considered statutory rape. This is the case regardless of whether or not the underage individual wanted to have sex or even if they initiated the encounter. Colorado does not take this expression of consent to be valid, as the adolescent has not reached the legal age of consent.
What if the underage person lied about their age?
Many defendants counter that they did not know the person they had sex with was underage; however, this defense will not hold up in court. You can still be charged and convicted of statutory rape charges, even if the underage individual you had sex with was not truthful about their age.
What if the couple is married? Are they exempt from statutory rape laws?
This question is typically irrelevant in the state of Colorado, as you cannot be legally married until age 18. However, there are two exceptions to this rule:
  1. You are 16 or 17 years of age and your parents/legal guardian consent to the marriage. 
  2. You are under the age of 16 and you receive both judicial approval and parental/legal guardian consent.
If you are under the age of 17 and are legally married under one of these conditions, then you can consent to sexual intercourse, regardless of the age gap between you and your spouse.

Why You Should Hire a Sex Crimes Lawyer for Your Statutory Rape Case

If you are facing charges for statutory rape, sexual assault on a child, or any other type of sex crime, we urge you to seek legal representation right away. A Colorado sex crimes lawyer will have the experience and knowledge necessary to build a strong defense on your behalf.
One of the most common and effective strategies for a statutory rape defense is that no penetration occurred. Because the state must prove penetration beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution may have a hard time convicting the defendant in he said/she said cases.
If you are searching for a sex crimes attorney near you, the MBS Law team can help. Our attorneys have over 90 combined years of experience successfully defending cases just like yours. Get started with a FREE consultation today.

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