Does Virginia have Romeo and Juliet laws?

In the past, it was common for state lawmakers to draft sex-crime laws in such a way that a high school student could easy face a severe criminal conviction for engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with another student of similar age. Due to the fact that many considered it inherently unfair to punish individuals for consensual acts, particularly given their comparable ages, many states created "close-in-age" exemptions - otherwise known as Romeo and Juliet laws.

In basic terms, Romeo and Juliet laws are statutes that provide some protection from the harsh consequences associated with a sex-crime conviction for a consensual relationship when the individuals involved are minors and close in age. And, while Virginia does not have any clear-cut Romeo and Juliet laws, there are certain statutory provisions that indicate some close-in-age protections do exist in certain circumstances.

Close-in-age exemptions in Virginia

In Virginia, the bright-line age of consent for sexual relationships is 18-years-old. Specifically, Virginia law states, "Any person 18 years of age or older, [...] who [...] engages in consensual sexual intercourse with [...] a child 15 or older [...] is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor."

Thus, from this language, it can be inferred that consensual sexual relationships between individuals aged 15, 16, and 17 are permitted, and only become illegal if one of the individuals involved is 18 or older - essentially creating a close-in-age exemption for those aged 15, 16 and 17.

Interestingly, there is an additional exception referenced in this statute for married couples. In fact, individuals typically cannot be convicted for violating this particular statute if they are married, even if one of the spouses is over the age of 18.

It is important to mention, however, that there is another Virginia law that also deals with consensual sexual relationships involving minors - specifically, minors who are at least 13-year-old but under the age of 15. This provision states that it is a Class 4 felony for an adult to have consensual sexual intercourse with someone between the ages of 13 and 15.

However, if the accused individual is also a minor (under the age of 18), but at the same time at least three years older than the alleged victim, the offense is reduce to a Class 6 felony. Moreover, if the accused individual is less than three years older than the alleged victim, the offense is further reduced to a Class 4 misdemeanor. While this particular statute does not protect an individual from prosecution when the parties are close in age, it does reduce the level of charges.

Legal assistance is often necessary

It is crucial to keep in mind that the information contained herein is merely a simply outline of Virginia underage-sex laws, and as such, should not be considered legal advice. Indeed, as with any legal matter, a person should seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney if they are facing sex-crime charges. A skilled attorney can explain these often-confusing laws and help ensure an individual's rights are protected.