How Does Florida’s “Romeo And Juliet” Law Affect Statutory Rape Cases?
The age of consent in Florida is normally 18. This means that it is illegal for a person under the age of 18 to legally consent to sexual activity. An adult who therefore engages in sexual conduct with a minor can therefore be charged with statutory rape, even if the minor is a willing participant.
A statutory rape conviction carries serious consequences. A person convicted of this crime can face substantial jail time and probation. They can also be required to register for life as a sex offender, which can affect their ability to work or find a place to live.
Florida law does carve out an exception, however, for so-called “Romeo and Juliet” cases. This refers to a situation where a person is technically guilty of statutory rape, but given their proximity in age to the (willing) victim, the lifetime registration requirement may be waived at the court’s discretion.
Under Section 943.04354, this exemption only applies if the applicant meets the following criteria:
- The applicant has no other sex crimes record aside from the statutory rape conviction.
- The applicant had sex with a minor between the ages of 14 and 17.
- The applicant was no more than four years older (1,460 days) than the minor.
- The minor initiated or agreed to the sexual activity.
It is important to emphasize that even an applicant who meets this criteria can still be convicted of the crime of statutory rape. Section 943.04354 simply provides a mechanism for qualified persons convicted of statutory rape to avoid the additional legal disability of lifetime sex offender registration. A person convicted of a sex crime in Florida may still be required to register if applying Section 943.04354 would otherwise conflict with federal law.
Statutory Rape Defendant Entitled to Explanation
Although a judge may deny even a qualified applicant relief from the registration requirement, the court must give some explanation. The Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently explained this in a case, Hurtado v. State, where a circuit court judge denied a request for post-conviction relief under Section 943.04354.
The Second District noted the defendant met all of the statutory requirements described above. The judge simply denied the motion without explanation. The appellate court said this failure alone justified reversal and a new hearing on the subject.
In ruling for the defendant, the Second District also explained it had to revisit a prior ruling, Clark v. State, that addressed a similar situation. In Clark, the Second District said a post-conviction motion for relief under Section 943.04354 was “untimely,” as the issue should have been addressed at sentencing. But subsequent changes to Florida law now allowed such matters to be “disposed of at a hearing” after sentencing.
Contact Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
Given the lifelong consequences attached to a sex crimes conviction–even for conduct where both parties were willing participants–it is essential that you seek out timely legal advice before heading into court. If you need representation from an experienced Orlando sex crimes lawyer, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.