The age at which a person can legally consent to sexual intercourse in Virginia is 18. However, it’s certainly not unusual for teens to engage in consensual intercourse with one another before this age. For this reason, Virginia lists allowances for children ages 15-17. These exemptions are known as the “close in age exemptions” or “Romeo and Juliet Laws”.
While Virginia doesn’t use the term “statutory rape”, the general population understands that he Romeo and Juliet law falls into that category. And if you’re unsure of the term, statutory rape is a type of sex crime that involves a difference in age, rather than force.
In this post, we’ll answer questions about the close in age exemption, as well as how the Romeo and Juliet law might affect you or your children. We’ll also talk about possible legal defenses against criminal charges.
What is Statutory Rape in Virginia?
Statutory rape is a serious crime that comes with harsh penalties in Virginia. A conviction can cause long-term consequences in a person’s life.
In Virginia, it’s illegal for an adult who is 18 years or older to have sex with a minor, even if it’s consensual.
The word, “rape”, tends to lend itself to an image of forcible assault. And, many rape crimes to involve this, but not all.
In Virginia, rape, at its definition, is when sexual activity occurs without informed consent from both parties.
The state of Virginia protects several groups, because in general, they are unable to provide informed consent. Minors fall into this category.
In the eyes of Virginia law, a minor cannot consent to sexual activity. The term “statutory”, implies that the crime is only a crime because of the age difference; had the two parties been over the age of 18, there would be no crime.
For example, if a 23-year-old engages in sexual activity with a 14-year-old, that is illegal, regardless of if the 14-year-old consented to the sexual activity. This is because the law does not believe a 14-year-old can consent to sexual activity.
The Romeo and Juliet Law makes an exception when both parties are minors. We’ll talk more about that below.
As such, the prosecutor does not need to prove that any kind of assault occurred in a statutory rape case.
With that being said, forceful rape or rape that involves assault, will be prosecuted under the state’s assault and battery laws, or the child molestation laws.
What are the Virginia Statutory Rape Laws?
Statutory rape falls under Virginia’s sexual abuse and molestation laws. Virginia divides the various charges into several categories, based on the difference in age between the two parties and the type of sexual activity that occurred.
Below is an overview of the charges defendants might incur:
Rape: Va. Code § 18.2-61
Includes sexual intercourse with a minor, who is younger than 13 and a defendant of any age. This is a felony offense that incurs at least 5 years in prison (up to life), a fine, or both.
Carnal Knowledge of a Child Between 13 and 15 Years Old: Va. Code §§ 18.2-10, 18.2-11, 18.2-63
This includes sexual intercourse, or penetration of any kind, between a minor who is 13-14 years old and a defendant of any age. This is a Class 4 felony, when the defendant is 18 years or older.
This is a Class 6 felony when the defendant is younger than 18 and at least 3 years older than the victim.
It’s a Class 4 misdemeanor if the defendant is younger than 18 and less than three years older than the victim.
Causing or Encouraging Juvenile Delinquency: Va. Code §§ 18.2-11, 18.2-371
This includes sexual, oral, or anal intercourse between a minor who is 15-17 and a defendant who is at least 18 years old. This is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which incurs up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 or both.
What are the Penalties for Statutory Rape in Virginia?
Penalties will vary and could include prison time, fines, or both. Typically, the younger the minor is, the harsher the punishment will be.
Increased penalties will apply to defendants with prior convictions. Increased penalties may also apply for defendants who were in a position of power: this includes clergymen, a teacher, or a coach.
A conviction for sexual conduct with a minor can result in a prison sentence ranging from a year to life, depending on the facts of the case.
What are some Legal Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge?
The usual defenses are available to defendants facing statutory rape charges. You can claim that you did not commit the crime but someone else did, or that the crime didn’t take place at all.
Some of the following defenses may apply as well:
Marital Exception: Va. Code § 18.2-371
Virginia has an exemption for statutory rape that allows two married people to have consensual sex, regardless of their ages.
Let’s look at an example: minors cannot consent to sex. So, if a 15-year-old has sex with her 19-year-old boyfriend, the boyfriend is guilty of statutory rape. Virginia can and will prosecute him under its sexual assault laws.
But if the two are legally married and living in Virginia, no crime has taken place.
It is important to note that despite this law, it is still illegal to forcibly rape your spouse. If a man forcibly rapes his wife, he has no defense under the law, despite the fact that they were married.
Virginia Romeo and Juliet Law: Va. Code § 18.2-63
We’re back to Shakespeare. The Rome and Juliet law exception exists to protect two teenagers engaging in consensual sex when they are close in age, as Romeo and Juliet were.
The Romeo and Juliet law still doesn’t allow consensual sex between two minors who are less than two years apart in age, in the state of Virginia. Furthermore, it only applies when these minors are at 15, 16, or 17 years old.
And, unlike many states, the Romeo and Juliet law is a limited exception the reduces the conduct from a felony to a misdemeanor offense.
The activity is still illegal in the state of Virginia, but someone who is protected by the Romeo and Juliet exemption won’t face the same consequences as someone who isn’t.
Mistake of Age
In many states, the mistake of age is not a reasonable defense. If a minor is 15, 16, or 17, the defendant can argue that they believed the minor was not a minor. They may even argue that the minor represented themselves as older and that a reasonable person would believe them. This is not a viable defense in Virginia court.
Contact the Manassas Law Group
At the Manassas Law Group, we understand that these types of crimes are emotionally fraught and can do harm to reputations. For this reason, we handle each and every case with discretion and integrity.