What is a “Romeo and Juliet” law?

A “Romeo and Juliet” law is an exception in the law to prevent the prosecution of underage people who engage in consensual sex when both participants are significantly close in age, and one is below the age of consent. Named after William Shakespeare’s young lovers in the Romeo and Juliet play, these exceptions protect young people from criminal charges resulting from consensual sexual activity with other young people. People cannot be prosecuted for statutory rape or sexual battery who have engaged in sexual activity with one another and are within 36 months of each other. In Mississippi, the age of consent is 16 years old. At 16, a person is legally old enough to consent to sexual activity. Individuals aged 15 or younger cannot legally consent to sexual activity, and such action could result in prosecution for statutory rape or sexual battery. In Mississippi, statutory rape laws are violated when a person has consensual sexual intercourse with an individual under 16 and who is not their spouse. A close-in-age exemption exists when the age gap between the parties is less than 36 months.

Statutory Rape in Mississippi:

In Mississippi, a person commits statutory rape by having sexual intercourse with a 14 or 15-year-old child when the defendant is age 17 or older and more than three years older than the child. For example, a 17-year-old who has had consensual sex with a 15-year-old cannot be criminally prosecuted in Mississippi. However, sex with anyone younger than 14 is always a crime and can carry a possible sentence of life imprisonment. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-65, 97-3-95 (2018).)

Generally, in Mississippi, the punishment for statutory rape is more severe the younger the victim and the older the defendant. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-65 (2018).)

What About Consent?

Statutory rape cases typically do not allow for consent to be used as a legal defense. A child below the age of consent cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse. Force or coercion is not required to be convicted of statutory rape. You can be convicted of statutory rape regardless of whether your partner was willing or not. In general, a statutory rape allegation comes down to the ages of the people involved.

What About the Victim’s Past Behavior?

The alleged victim’s past behavior will have no impact on whether or not you’re charged or convicted with statutory rape. Due to the ages involved, a victim’s past lack of chastity, or overt sexual promiscuity, is not considered when it comes to statutory rape.

Mistake of Age

In Mississippi, it is not a defense to a charge of statutory rape or a similar crime where the defendant mistakenly believed the child to be of age, even if the child concealed or misstated their age or appeared to be an adult.

Sex Offender Registration

People convicted of statutory rape and sexual battery are required to register as sex offenders in Mississippi unless the defendant was 18 years old (or younger) and the victim was 14 or 15 years old at the time of the offense. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 45-33-23, 45-33-25 (2018).) 

Help for Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors

If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is available for online help and local resources.

Enlist the Help of a Qualified Attorney

When you are searching the state of Mississippi for a qualified, experienced criminal defense attorney, look no further than Vic Carmody Jr., P.A. No matter the circumstances of your case, the sooner you get in touch with a qualified criminal defense attorney who has experience in sex crimes, the better chance you have at a favorable outcome for your case. Over the years, we have helped countless defendants who have been charged with sex crimes. Please call us for a free consultation today, and we can help you defend yourself in the unfortunate scenario of being arrested and charged with a sex crime in Mississippi.

Please also see us on mississippi-lawyers.com and view our reviews on avvo.com, superlawyers.com, and martindale.com. Our email address is vic@mississippi-lawyers.com, and our office phone number is (601) 948 – 4444 option 1.

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