What is the Florida Romeo and Juliet law?

Florida enacted Romeo and Juliet laws in 2007 to protect young sexual offenders whose convictions resulted from consensual acts with a minor close in age. The Florida Romeo and Juliet law allows certain offenders to avoid the sexual offender registry requirement. Before these laws took effect, an 18-year-old in a consensual sexual relationship with a 15-year-old would face registration on the sexual offender registry and be forced to deal with the associated stigma for decades.

If you have been charged with a crime such as statutory rape, call Goldman Wetzel in St. Petersburg to talk to our defense lawyers about your case. We represent defendants in all types of criminal cases, including tough sex crime cases involving young parties. The initial call is free: 727-828-3900.

What does the Romeo and Juliet law entail?

The Romeo and Juliet law, detailed in Florida Statute § 943.04354, sets the guidelines and provides the means for certain young offenders to avoid lifetime inclusion on the sexual offender registry. If the defendant meets the requirements, he can petition the court to remove the requirement to register as a sexual offender.

This is an important provision for young offenders because of the consequences that come with classification as a sexual offender. Registry can affect future career opportunities, where the offender can live, and even his/her ability to attend his/her own child’s school functions.

“The registry provides no clear distinction between the young ‘Romeo and Juliet’ sex offenders who had consensual sex and the offenders who harm children and pose a real risk to society,” notes The Florida Senate.

The Romeo and Juliet law allows qualified offenders to avoid the registry, but it does not make it legal for a young adult to have a sexual relationship with a minor. Eighteen-year-olds in a sexual relationship with a minor age 15 or younger still face criminal charges under Florida’s statutory rape law. The Romeo and Juliet law simply allows defendants to circumnavigate the harsh repercussion of being labeled as a sexual offender.

(NOTE: Under the age-gap provision in Florida Statute § 794.05, a 16- or 17-year-old can legally consent to sexual conduct with a person 16 to 23 years of age. If the victim is younger or the defendant is older than these thresholds, this rule does not apply. The defendant would face felony sex crimes charges.)

What are the requirements to qualify under Florida’s Romeo and Juliet law?

If the case meets all the following criteria, the defendant can petition for the court to omit the sexual offender registry requirement under the Romeo and Juliet law:

  • The offense must have been one of the following: sexual battery (S. § 794.011); lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age (F.S. § 800.04); sexual performance by a child (F.S. § 827.071); or certain computer transmissions prohibited (F.S. § 847.0135(5).) Other offenses do not qualify.
  • The victim must have been at least 14 years old.
  • The defendant must have been no more than four years older than the victim.
  • The victim must have consented. 

Can the judge deny a petition for exclusion on the sexual offender registry?

In a report examining the Romeo and Juliet law, the Florida Senate found that, as of July 2011, the majority of judges had granted defendants’ requests to remove the sexual offender registry requirement. Courts granted relief to an estimated 93 percent of qualified defendants. Our district, the 6th Judicial Circuit comprising Pinellas and Pasco counties, granted far more of these petitions than other districts.

However, judges are not under a mandate to grant the petition. They may deny a motion to remove the sexual offender registry requirement if they so choose. Below are some of the reasons they may deny a petition:

  • The defendant has a criminal history.
  • The defendant was in a position of authority over the victim.
  • The defendant had multiple charges/relationships with minors.
  • The defendant gave alcohol or drugs to the victim.
  • There was coercion involved.
  • The victim’s parents had warned the defendant to stay away from their child. 

Can ignorance of the victim’s age be a defense?

No, we cannot use ignorance of the victim’s age as a defense in Florida. Even if you can prove that you legitimately did not know his/her age and that any reasonable person would have thought s/he was of age, you still cannot use it as a defense.

However, there are various valid defenses that we may use. Contact the defense team at Goldman Wetzel to discuss your case and which defenses might be plausible in your situation. Call 727-828-3900 for a free consultation.

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