Does Pennsylvania Have a Romeo and Juliet Law?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Feb 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

Pennsylvania does have a “Romeo and Juliet” law, carving out an exception to the crime of statutory sexual assault for young adults who are close in age to each other. The exception is not a trivial one: Without a Romeo and Juliet law, young couples and high schoolers could face a felony offense that carries up to a decade in jail.

The Age of Consent in Pennsylvania

The law in Pennsylvania aims to protect young people from sexual conduct by refusing to recognize their consent if they are under the age of 16. Anyone who has intercourse or a sexual interaction with someone who is under this age of consent is having nonconsensual sex, which is a serious crime.

This poses a serious problem for high schoolers in the state who are dating one another. If one of them is above the age of consent, but the other one is beneath it, the older one could be liable for a felony-level offense if exceptions aren't made.

Pennsylvania's Laws on Statutory Sexual Assault and Rape of a Child

In Pennsylvania, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3122.1 makes it a crime to engage in sexual intercourse with someone under the age of consent. Called statutory rape in many other states, it is called statutory sexual assault in Pennsylvania.

There are two levels of statutory sexual assault:

  • Intercourse with someone under 16 by someone 11 or more years older is a first-degree felony
  • Intercourse with someone under 16 by someone between four and 11 years older is a second-degree felony

Meanwhile, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3121(c) makes it a first-degree felony to have sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 13. This is Pennsylvania's law against rape of a child.

These are among the most severe types of crimes that can be committed in Pennsylvania. First degree felonies carry between 10 and 20 years in jail, while second-degree felonies carry between five and 10 years in jail.

The Close-in-Age Exemption, Also Known as the Romeo and Juliet Law

But what about sexual intercourse when one person is over 13 but still under the age of consent, while the other person is fewer than four years older?

That is the “Romeo and Juliet” law in Pennsylvania.

Named after the star-crossed lovers in the famous Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet laws exempt young couples (in the play, Juliet was 13 and Romeo is thought to be around 16) from criminal liability for having sexual relations with one another. The point behind these laws is that, while it might not be wise for such young people to be having sex, it surely shouldn't subject the older partner to a felony-level offense that could put them in jail for years.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who legally represents people in Philadelphia who have been accused of a variety of criminal offenses, including a serious sex crime like statutory sexual assault.

Call his law office at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online for the legal representation you need.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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