Romeo and Juliet Provisions

The question of what happens when two teenagers choose to engage in a sexual relationship is one of the most common in Juvenile law. While these relationships often show a lack of sound judgement on the part of those involved and are generally not encouraged, they are often seen a reality of the modern world. Due to the fact that the majority of these relationships are consensual encounters, few people ever think of the potential legal ramifications of such a relationship. This problem becomes especially prevalent when dealing with high school age juveniles. It is commonplace that high school students will date and have relationships with people who are younger and older than them.

Sexual assault of a child in Texas is defined in the Penal Code under section 22.011. Specifically, the law reads that sexual assault of a child includes the following:

  • (2) intentionally or knowingly:
    • (A) causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of a child by any means;
    • (B) causes the penetration of the mouth of a child by the sexual organ of the actor;
    • (C) causes the sexual organ of a child to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;
    • (D) causes the anus of a child to contact the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor; or
    • (E) causes the mouth of a child to contact the anus or sexual organ of another person, including the actor.

There are several important points to realize when reading this. First, the law defines a child as somebody who is younger than 17 years of age. This means that any sexual relationship as defined above with a person under the age of 17 could be classified as a sexual assault. While, assuming that the sexual activity was consensual, it would be a situation of “statutory” sexual assault, the penalties remain serious. Sexual Assault of a Child is a second degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years in the penitentiary.

The Texas state legislature has thought about this and has realized that teenagers do engage in these types of relationships. To deal with that reality, the legislature included a provision in the Sexual Assault Statute commonly referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet” provision. The provision reads:

  • (e) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2):
    • (1) that the actor was the spouse of the child at the time of the offense; or
    • (2) that:
      • (A) the actor was not more than three years older than the victim and at the time of the offense:
        • (i) was not required under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, to register for life as a sex offender; or
        • (ii) was not a person who under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, had a reportable conviction or adjudication for an offense under this section; and
      • (B) the victim:
        • (i) was a child of 14 years of age or older; and
        • (ii) was not a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01.1

So what does this all mean? In its most basic terms it means that the child engaged in the relationship must be at least 14 years old, and the person they are having the relationship with must be within three years of age. This means that the defense exists if a 14-year-old is engaged in a relationship with a 17-year-old. Likewise, it would exist if a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old were in a relationship. What is important however is to consider the potential pitfalls of this provision.

The first thing to consider is what it means to be an affirmative defense. This doesn’t mean that there is a prohibition on prosecuting a case that falls under the provision, rather that this is an accepted defense that can be presented to a Jury. If, during a trial, a Jury finds that all the requirements of the Romeo and Juliet provision are satisfied then they would have to find the allegations to be Not True. Furthermore, this provision only applies to sexual assault cases, and the State could still choose to proceed on another charge if it isn’t sexual assault. This means charges of Online Solicitation of a Minor or Sexual Performance by a Child are potential changes that the State could seek that would not be protected under this provision.

At Stuckle and Associates we can advise a family who find themselves in this unfortunate position if a defense under the Romeo and Juliet provision exists in their child’s case. As this is an issue that comes up during a trial, we will prepare an aggressive defense based on this fact. If you are in the Dallas County, Collin County, Tarrant County, Denton County, or Rockwall County region, or anywhere else in North Texas please give us a call to setup a free consultation for more information.


1. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 22.011