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Arizona’s Romeo & Juliet Law

Posted on January 10, 2024 in

Arizona law is clear when it comes to sexual conduct with a minor: it is a crime to engage in sexual activity with someone who is under the age of consent (18 years old). However, the Romeo and Juliet Law provides an exception to this rule in circumstances where there is a small age difference between both parties and the sexual activity is consensual.

Sexual Conduct With a Minor Is a Crime in Arizona

Sexual conduct with a minor is against the law under Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) Section 13-1405. This law states that a person commits a crime if he or she intentionally or knowingly engages in sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact with anyone who is under the age of 18 years old. Eighteen is the age of consent in Arizona, meaning the minimum age at which an individual can lawfully consent to sexual contact. 

Violating the age of consent law in Arizona could lead to statutory rape charges, even if the sexual activity was consensual. The penalties for sexual conduct with a minor can include hefty fines, registration on Arizona’s sex offender list and five years to life imprisonment. Sexual conduct with a minor is a Class 6 felony unless it involves a minor who is under the age of 15, in which case it is enhanced to a Class 2 felony and comes with no chance of probation, pardon or early release. 

The Romeo & Juliet Law Provides a Close-in-Age Exemption

Arizona’s Romeo and Juliet Law is a close-in-age exemption to its sexual conduct with a minor statute. This exemption provides certain protections from criminal prosecution to individuals who are close in age and who engage in a consensual sexual relationship if one or both parties are under the age of consent. The name of the law is derived from the Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet, which involves two minors who are in a romantic relationship.

ARS 13-1407(e) states that it is a defense to a prosecution under ARS 13-1405 if the victim is 15 to 17 years of age and the defendant is 18 years old or younger or attending high school, as long as there is an age difference of 24 months or less between the two parties and the sexual conduct is consensual. If one party was 17 and the other was 19 but still in high school, for example, the Romeo and Juliet exemption would apply.

The close-in-age exemption also applies to a prosecution for “aggravated luring of a minor for sexual exploitation” under ARS 13-3560. This law criminalizes offering or soliciting sexual conduct with a minor by means of electronic communication. If the requirements of the Romeo and Juliet Law are met, a defendant will not be subject to luring a minor charges.

Other Exemptions to Arizona’s Age of Consent Law 

There are other exemptions to Arizona’s age of consent rule in addition to the close-in-age provision. ARS 13-1407(e) states that it is a defense if the act was performed as part of a lawful medical practice by a licensed physician or registered nurse. It is also a defense if the parties are lawfully married (the spousal status exemption). In Arizona, a minor under the age of 18 can get married with permission from at least one parent or legal guardian. If under the age of 16, permission must also be granted from a Superior Court judge for a legal marriage. 

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime involving Arizona’s age of consent laws, contact a Phoenix criminal defense attorney at Snader Law Group for a free and confidential case evaluation.