FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-04-24
Besides the rising of the sun and the ebbing of the tides, there is perhaps nothing more constant and recurring throughout the generations as young love. However, for some teenagers in Texas and nationwide, young love can land them a lengthy jail sentence, due to the sex crimes laws on the books.
In an ironic twist, parents across the nation are fighting against the very laws that are designed to protect their children. The parents are arguing that the laws — which lump underage sex among teenagers into the same category as pedophiles and violent sexual offenders — impose punishments on their children that do not fit the crime.
In a particularly poignant example, an 18-year-old high school senior was arrested for having sex with his freshman girlfriend at the same high school. As the age of consent in this particular state is 16, which the girlfriend was not, the 18-year-old pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct and was sentenced to one year in jail plus three years’ probation.
When the two rekindled their relationship, it was a violation of the young man’s probation, which led to the young man being sentenced to five to 15 years in prison. He served six years behind bars and, once released, had to register as a sex offender. He now must wear a GPS device so his daily movements can be monitored.
Romeo and Juliet Laws
Some state legislatures, such as Texas, have responded to the parental demands for change by enacting so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws. These types of laws exempt some teenagers and young adults engaging in sexual relations with someone under the age of consent from being classified as sex offenders.
Under Texas’ version of the law, if a young adult over the age of 17 has consensual sexual relations with someone under the age of 17, but at least 15-years-old, with no more than a four-year age difference between the two, the new law will not require the older party to register as a sex offender if convicted of statutory rape.
The new law also allows those convicted under the old law to clear their names. Those who had to register previously as as sex offenders for consensual sexual encounters with a person under the age of 17 can ask the court to review their case. If the court finds that the sexual relationship was consensual and the offender is not a threat to the public, it can exempt the offender from future sex offender registration.
However, the new law has limits on its protections. Although the new law protects the older party in the relationship from having to register as a sex offender, it does not make the older party immune from prosecution based on other sexual-related crimes such as statutory rape.
An Attorney Can Help
Even under the new laws, there is still the possibility for young lovers to run afoul of the law. As the penalties can be very severe, if you have been accused of a sex crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can review the evidence against you, advise you of your rights and prepare an effective defense on your behalf.