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What Is Arizona’s “Romeo and Juliet” Law?

Posted on December 11, 2023 in Sex Crimes

“Romeo and Juliet” laws, named after the famous William Shakespeare play, deal with relationships between two people who are young in age. Every state has age of consent laws that impose a minimum age at which individuals can consent to engage in sexual activity. Some states, including Arizona, have Romeo and Juliet laws that provide limited exceptions to this rule.

The Age of Consent in Arizona Is 18

Like many other states, Arizona’s age of consent is 18. An individual must be at least 18 years of age to give his or her legal consent to sexual conduct. Engaging in sexual activities with someone below the age of consent could lead to a charge of statutory rape or “sexual conduct with a minor,” under Arizona Revised Statutes Section 13-1405.

The term “statutory” shows that it is only a crime due to the legal age of consent; had both parties been over the age of 18, no crime would have been committed, as this type of rape does not involve force. Even if a minor under the age of 18 agreed to engage in a sexual act, it is viewed as nonconsensual and the crime of statutory rape due to his or her being younger than the age of consent.

Arizona’s Close-in-Age Exemption

Arizona’s Romeo and Juliet law creates a close-in-age exemption to the age of consent law. According to state law, if two teenagers who are close in age – like Romeo and Juliet – engage in consensual sexual intercourse, it is not considered statutory rape. For the close-in-age exemption to apply, the couple must be no more than two years apart. For example, if a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old engage in consensual sexual intercourse, neither adolescent would face charges for statutory rape or sexual assault of a minor.

In general, Arizona’s close-in-age exemption only applies to adolescents who are ages 15, 16 and 17 years old. The Romeo and Juliet law does not apply to children under the age of 15. Engaging in sexual activity with a child who is 14 or younger is the crime of child sexual abuse, even if the other person is a teenager. Finally, the Romeo and Juliet law can apply to individuals who are 18 or 19, as long as they are no more than two years older than their sexual partners and are still in high school.

Other Exceptions to the Statutory Rape Law

Other exemptions to the age of consent law exist in Arizona in addition to the Romeo and Juliet law. One is the marital exception; if the two individuals are married before they have consensual sex, it is not statutory rape, regardless of age. A teenager can get married in Arizona with the consent of at least one legal parent or guardian if he or she is at least 16 or 17. Anyone under the age of 16 years old needs the consent of a legal adult and the approval of a Superior Court judge to be married.

Another exception to the statutory rape law is mistake of age. However, this defense is not always viable or able to be used in a criminal court case. Mistake of age is a defense that argues that the defendant believed the minor was of the legal age of consent. The defendant may state that the minor represented himself or herself as older, for example. This defense may be valid if a reasonable person would have believed the minor was at least 18 years of age under the circumstances.

If you are facing statutory rape charges in Arizona, contact the criminal defense lawyers at AZ Defenders for a free and confidential consultation.