Romeo and Juliet Law in NJ – Age of Consent

When an adult is sexually involved with a minor, the adult may be charged with sexual assault or other sex crimes even if the encounter was consensual. Different laws may protect young people from charges criminal when both parties are minors.

Romeo and Juliet laws are aimed at so-called “statutory rape” cases where both parties are underage. Essentially, when the defendant is less than 4 years older than the alleged victim, the defendant cannot be charged with certain crimes. The purpose of the law is to protect minors who might be sexually active from being criminally charged for relationships with their peers. This commonly protects “high school sweethearts.” While you can use these laws to shield yourself from certain criminal charges, the prosecutor might still try to prove that the sexual encounter was not consensual, and you might still face serious potential penalties.

If your child is facing sexual assault charges because their partner is underage, or if you are a young adult dating someone younger, you might be able to take advantage of Romeo and Juliet laws. Our Brigantine sexual assault defense attorneys can conduct a free case review to determine the best way to handle your case. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.

The Romeo and Juliet Laws of New Jersey

Romeo and Juliet laws are woven into the statute about sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault in New Jersey.


According to N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-2, a defendant may be found guilty of aggravated sexual assault if they had sex with a victim younger than 13 or if they had sex with a victim who was at least 13 years old but under 16 years old, and the actor fell into various categories of trust (such as being a blood relation). Sexual contact – something short of penetration – with a victim under 13 is considered (“simple”) sexual assault. Additionally, sexual assault charges might apply if the alleged victim is at least 13 but younger than 16 and the defendant is at least 4 years older or if the victim is a minor at least 16 years old and the defendant has some blood relation or position of trust/authority over the victim. These same considerations apply to charges for sexual contact under N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-3 for conduct short of penetrative sex.

Romeo and Juliet Protections

Although the statutes do not contain explicit protections for underage defendants, these protections are implied by the logic of the statutes. If a defendant must be at least 4 years older than the alleged victim to be charged with sexual assault, a defendant less than 4 years older cannot be charged. For example, if the alleged victim is 14 and the defendant is 16, they only have a 2-year age gap, and the defendant cannot be charged.

Remember that Romeo and Juliet laws apply to cases of what is commonly referred to as “statutory rape.” Statutory rape is charged when the situation involves what would otherwise be consensual sex, but the victim is underage and cannot legally consent to sex. While minor defendants are shielded from these charges under Romeo and Juliet laws, they are not protected from charges involving force or coercion. You should speak to our Atlantic City sexual assault defense lawyers about the proper defenses to use in your specific case.

What is the Age of Consent in NJ?

As you might be able to tell from the laws discussed above, the law is a bit complex as to when someone is considered legally able to give consent. This rule is also a bit strange, as the age of consent essentially changes based on the age of the partner.

General Age of Consent

As discussed below, Romeo and Juliet laws are essentially aimed at keeping sex between people who are close in age legal, even if one of them might be a young adult. As such, the general age of consent in New Jersey is 16 years old, giving some leeway for young adults to have consensual relations without fear of prosecution.

Keep in mind, however, that this does not apply if the two people have some sort of power imbalance. The sexual assault statute accounts for this by making it illegal for an adult with power over the 16+ minor to have sex with them. This includes things like familial relations (e.g., an uncle or older cousin), a boss or manager, an employee at the minor’s school, or some other person with authority.

Age of Consent Regarding Teachers and Students

There is also a separate rule for teachers and other school employees that bars them from having sex with students in some situations, even if the student is over 18. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-2(c)(5), it is still sexual assault for a school worker to have sex with a student until the student turns 22 or receives a diploma from the school.

Age of Consent Between Minors

As for the “age of consent” between minors, the law is tricky. Technically speaking, people under 16 are deemed not to be able to consent, but the law does not punish minors for sexual acts if they are both consenting and they are within 4 years of age. This is one of the core provisions of this Romeo and Juliet policy.

Sex with anyone under 13 is always a crime, even if the actors are of similar ages.

Consent for Inmates and Patients

The ability to consent is also revoked for anyone in custody, in juvenile detention, or detained in a mental health hospital. This ensures charges can be filed against guards, doctors, or other staff who might take advantage of someone in a vulnerable state, but it also means that fellow inmates and patients also cannot legally consent to voluntary sex.

Lack of Consent

Lastly, these “age of consent” questions deal only with voluntary or otherwise consensual acts. If there is force involved, if the victim is drugged or intoxicated, mentally incapable of giving consent, or the actor acts without the other person’s consent, sexual assault charges can be filed no matter how old either party was.

Statutory Rape Laws in NJ

Romeo and Juliet laws could be viewed from a different perspective as “statutory rape” laws. Statutory rape is when sex that would otherwise be consensual is criminalized only because one party is too young to give consent. Romeo and Juliet laws essentially carve out exceptions for people in certain age groups, but those left out of the exception can still be charged with statutory rape.

As such, “statutory rape” can be charged as “sexual assault” any time one partner is at least 4 years older than a minor under 16. If the minor was under 13, then the charges are aggravated sexual assault instead; sex with anyone under 13 is a crime regardless of the actor’s age. If the minors are all at least 16 or the partners are at least 13 and within 4 years of age, Romeo and Juliet laws should protect them from prosecution.

Charging Minors with Statutory Rape in NJ

As mentioned, some of these laws are relaxed when the alleged offender is a minor as well. However, minors can still face juvenile charges for what would be a crime if they were over 18. In these cases, the defendant might be “adjudicated delinquent” instead of “convicted,” but they could still face probation or other court-ordered monitoring, rehabilitative programs, and even detention in a juvenile facility. It is important to seek legal counsel from a defense lawyer, even if you are considered a minor when you are charged with a sexual offense.

The Purpose of New Jersey’s Romeo and Juliet Law

The purpose of Romeo and Juliet laws is to protect underage minors when they engage in sexual activity with other minors. This often becomes an issue with young teenagers who might be exploring their sexuality or engaging in sexual activity with their peers. Ordinarily, “statutory rape” charges might apply when an adult has sex with a minor. However, the situation becomes tricky when both parties are minors.

Romeo and Juliet laws eliminate charges for sexual relations that would be based solely on the fact that the victim is a minor. While the age difference between minors engaging in sexual activity can sometimes cause concern, Romeo and Juliet Laws reduce or eliminate penalties when the parties are under 4 years apart in age.

Romeo and Juliet laws can help protect young defendants, but they do not cover all possible scenarios. When age gaps between minors become larger, criminal charges might still be assessed, such as when the parties are 13 and 17 years old. You should contact our Cape May sexual assault defense attorneys for help if your child is facing charges.

Examples of Cases that Fall Under New Jersey’s Romeo and Juliet Law

New Jersey’s Romeo and Juliet laws might cover various circumstances and scenarios. One common example includes romance between high schoolers. It is not unusual for high school students to have romantic partners, and many people start dating in high school. Sometimes, teenagers decide to take their relationship further and engage in otherwise consensual sexual activity. As long as the two high schoolers are less than 4 years apart in age, as most high schoolers are, they cannot be charged with sexual assault or related offenses.

While these laws protect minors under certain circumstances, they do not protect minors in all possible circumstances. For example, a 16-year-old may be charged with “statutory rape” if their partner is younger than 13. Since the parties are at least 4 years apart, the Romeo and Juliet laws no longer apply. A common misconception about Romeo and Juliet laws is that people believe minors can never be charged with “statutory rape.” In reality, minors can be charged with “statutory rape” if the age difference between them and the alleged victim is too great.

Using New Jersey’s Romeo and Juliet Laws as a Defense to Sexual Assault Charges

Our New Jersey sexual assault defense attorneys can help determine if Romeo and Juliet laws apply to your case. If they do, we can prove to prosecutors that the defendant is less than 4 years older than the alleged victim. This might require submitting a birth certificate or something else to verify your child’s age to the court. Once we establish the lack of an illegal age gap, we can work with prosecutors to get the charges dropped or reduced, depending on the situation.

In some cases, Romeo and Juliet laws do not protect the defendant. These laws only apply when sexual activity between minors is consensual. If the other person claims that force or drugs were used, you cannot use the Romeo and Juliet law as a defense. At that point, our Egg Harbor sexual assault defense lawyers can review the case and determine whether any evidence of the assault exists and the best way to defend you or your child.

Contact Our New Jersey Sexual Assault Defense Attorneys for Help

If you or your child is accused of “statutory rape”, our Ocean City sexual assault defense lawyers can determine if your case is protected by Romeo and Juliet laws. For a free evaluation of your case, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.

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