What Is the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Law in Georgia?

Rape is a serious crime in any state. In Georgia, the definition of rape is twofold: to have carnal knowledge of a female against her will or to have sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 10. Statutory rape is another crime that involves sex with someone under the legal age of consent (16), even if that person gave his or her consent. Rape is a felony crime that can come with life-changing consequences. Georgia has a provision, however, known as the Romeo and Juliet Law, that makes certain sex crimes involving minors misdemeanors instead. What is the Romeo and Juliet Law? Our Georgia lawyers explain everything you need to know about the Romeo and Juliet Law in Georgia.

The Romeo and Juliet Law for Teenage Sex Crimes in Georgia

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is around 16, while Juliet is 13. Named after the infamous literary couple, Georgia’s Romeo and Juliet Law applies to consensual sexual intercourse between a plaintiff who is 14 to 16 years old and a defendant who is 18 years old or younger and no more than 4 years older than the plaintiff. While this is still against the law in Georgia, the sentence is not as harsh. Rather than treating it as a felony rape, the courts will treat it as a misdemeanor crime.

The penalties for rape are tough in Georgia. A rape conviction can come with the death penalty in Georgia, as well as life in prison without parole. Another potential punishment is a split sentence: 25 years in prison followed by a life of probation. Committing a rape crime (or statutory rape if over the age of 21) also comes with a requirement to register as a sex offender for life. This can affect the ability to get a job or find a place to live.

When the two people involved in the crime are minors or otherwise qualify under the Romeo and Juliet provision, the courts are more lenient than with typical sex crime cases. The crime will be a misdemeanor instead of a felony, with lesser penalties. A crime under the Romeo and Juliet Law is punishable with up to one year in jail, probation, and fines, along with possible community service and a “stay away” order. This is an order that works similar to a restraining order against the defendant.

Rehabilitation vs. Punishment

The Romeo and Juliet Law is in place in Georgia to reduce the ramifications on a defendant’s life for having consensual sex with a minor. Rather than focusing on the penal aspect of the law, the Georgia courts aim to rehabilitate a defendant convicted of a crime under the Romeo and Juliet Law. Carnal knowledge of someone 14 to 16 years old by someone older is still against the law, but as long as the defendant is still a minor and no more than four years older than the victim, he or she will not face felony charges or related penalties. Smaller fines and reduced jail time serves to teach the defendant a lesson without ruining his or her life.

Defenses for a Romeo and Juliet Crime

In Georgia, 16 is the youngest age a person can give his or her lawful consent to sexual activities. Anyone under 16 cannot give consent legally; even if he or she consents, the defendant could face assault or rape charges due to the victim’s young age. A landmark Romeo and Juliet case in Georgia, Haywood v. The State, established that it is not a usable defense to say the defendant had a good faith belief that the plaintiff was over the age of 16, even if the belief was reasonable. Even if the victim said she was 16, for example, the defendant could face charges if she was younger.

It may be possible to defend against a Romeo and Juliet accusation with help from a defense lawyer. Defenses could include wrong defendant, lack of evidence or that the alleged crime never actually occurred. A qualified attorney could also aim for lighter charges or penalties if a not-guilty defense is not possible. If someone is accusing you or your child of a crime under Georgia’s rape, statutory rape, or Romeo and Juliet Law, hire an attorney immediately for legal assistance.

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