It’s very common for people of different ages to be attracted to each other. After all, it’s not unusual for couples with an age difference of 5, 10, or even 20 or more years to meet, fall in love, get married and enjoy a long and happy life together.
While this is a non-issue if such a relationship exists between two “consenting adults” who are at least 18-years-of-age or older, it can be downright illegal if one of the parties is a minor (someone who is under the age of 18) and the other is an adult (age 18 or older).
Each state has enacted its own “age of consent law.” The age of consent refers to the legal age that someone can “consent” to sexual intercourse. In California, the age of consent is 18. This means that in order for someone to voluntarily engage in sexual activity, they must be at least 18-years-of-age. And if an adult engages in sexual intercourse with a minor, they break the law and can be subject to criminal prosecution.
In other words, if a teenager is 17-years-of-age or younger, he or she cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Therefore, if an adult age 18 or older has sex with someone who is 17 or younger, they can face criminal charges under California’s statutory rape law.
Does California Have a Romeo & Juliet Law?
It’s no secret – teenagers sometimes have sex with 18, 19, and 20-year-olds. They also have sex with people in their twenties and thirties. Sometimes, it’s all the minor’s idea. Since this happens, some states have enacted what are called “Romeo and Juliet” laws that protect young people who engage in consensual sex with minors who are close in age.
Does California have a Romeo and Juliet law to protect individuals who have sex with minors who are close to their age? No, California does NOT have a Romeo and Juliet law on the books. For example, even if an 18 or 19-year-old man has sex with a 17-year-old girl, he could still be prosecuted for statutory rape, especially if the girl’s parents were determined to press criminal charges.
Unlawful Sexual Intercourse Under the CA Penal Code
Section 261.5(a) of the California Penal Code reads, “Unlawful sexual intercourse is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator, if the person is a minor.” Under Sec. 2615(5), a “minor” is someone who is under the age of 18. In California, statutory rape is a “wobbler offense.” Meaning, it can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of the case, namely the age difference between the minor and the defendant.
Note: If someone is convicted under Sec. 261.5(a), they could face a civil penalty of up to $25,000 in addition to any other sentencing and fines imposed.
Related: Possible Outcomes of a Criminal Case