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Falling in love often happens unexpectedly, without regard for age or circumstances. However, when a sexual relationship develops between teens or a teen and an adult, complications can arise related to statutory rape laws.

Known as “Romeo and Juliet” laws, close-in-age exemption laws are designed to prevent consensual teenage couples and their partners from being prosecuted under statutory rape laws.
As experienced criminal defense attorneys in Minnesota, we aim to provide an overview of how the Romeo and Juliet law may apply in potential statutory rape cases.

What is the Age of Consent in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, the age of consent is 16 years old. This means that generally, a person must be at least 16 years old to willingly engage in sexual intercourse with an older partner. However, a close-in-age exemption exists to prevent prosecution of consensual relationships between teens.

What is the Romeo and Juliet Law in Minnesota?

Minnesota does not have an official Romeo and Juliet law. These laws prevent or reduce penalties for individuals close in age who willingly engage in sexual relations despite one being below the age of consent.

Their purpose is to avoid criminalizing consensual teen relationships. Romeo and Juliet laws frequently establish a 2-4 year age gap provision that reduces or eliminates penalties for statutory rape in qualifying cases.

For example:

  • Sexual activity with a minor below 13 years of age constitutes an illegal offense automatically, irrespective of the other party’s age.
  • When the minor is aged 13-15 years, it is designated as a felony-level violation unless the offender’s age is below 24 years.
  • Sexual relations with a minor aged 16 or 17 years is categorized under a lower misdemeanor offense if the other party is under 24 years old.

While sexual conduct with legal minors is codified as illegal, the laws allow for less severe charges and sentencing when the ages of the minor and older participants are reasonably close.

What Are the Penalties for Statutory Rape in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, you could potentially be charged with statutory rape for engaging in sexual conduct with a minor under the age of consent. Charges vary depending on your age and the age of the minor.

First and second-degree offenses involve sexual penetration and carry lengthier sentences, while third and fourth degree relate to sexual contact and have shorter maximum terms.

  • First-degree criminal sexual conduct convictions can result in up to 30 years imprisonment, fines of $40,000, or both.
  • Second-degree can bring up to a 25-year prison sentence or $35,000 in fines.
  • Third-degree offenses are divided into two categories based on age differences: 13-16-year-old minors with a partner less than 2 years older can receive up to 5 years and $30,000 fines. All other third-degree cases allow up to 15-year sentences or $30,000 fines.
  • Fourth-degree conduct carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, $20,000 fines, or both.

In summary, the statutory rape statutes aim to impose penalties proportional to the gravity and exploitative nature of the illegal sexual behavior with a minor.

What Are Possible Defenses for Statutory Rape?

If you are being investigated or charged with statutory rape, several defenses may apply to your case:

  • Mistake of age: You reasonably believed the minor was over the age of consent based on their appearance, what they told you, or official documents like a fake ID.
  • Romeo and Juliet: The minor was at least 16, there was less than a 10-year age gap, and you were not in a position of authority over them.
  • No sexual contact occurred: The allegations against you are fabricated or exaggerated.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the evidence and determine if any defenses apply to your case.

How Can a Romeo and Juliet Defense Help?

In states lacking Romeo and Juliet laws, experienced criminal defense attorneys can still mount compelling defenses by highlighting mitigating factors, including:

  • Consent: Showing the relationship was consensual and not coercive can undermine prosecution arguments.
  • Age Difference: A small age gap helps portray the relationship as reasonable.
  • No Position of Authority: Highlighting the accused did not have authority over the alleged victim weakens the case.
  • Mistake of Age: It may be possible to show the accused had a reasonable and honest belief the alleged victim was of consenting age.

Protect Your Future with a Strong Defense Strategy

If you have been charged with a sex crime in Minnesota, contact our defense attorneys at Martine Law. Our team has successfully defended statutory rape cases by promoting Romeo and Juliet defenses.

We aim to protect consenting teens and young adults from unwarranted, lifelong sex offender registration. Contact us today to discuss your best legal options.