Is There a ‘Romeo and Juliet Law’ in Massachusetts?

March 28, 2022 by Anthony Riccio

The misconception that a “Romeo and Juliet Law” is directly married to the Shakespearean romantic tragedy is far from the truth. It is a modern, much messier version.

In Massachusetts, there is no “Romeo and Juliet Law.” This statutory rape law defines the state’s non-existence of a close-in-age exemption for consensual sexual activity. This means that it is against the law to have sex with anyone under the age of 16 – even if both individuals are under 16.

It is crucial to look into the details of the law itself, the prosecution, the punishment, and the possible defense options.

What Does the Absence of a ‘Romeo and Juliet Law’ in Massachusetts Mean?

In Massachusetts, if a 17-year-old boyfriend touches the breasts of his 16-year-old girlfriend for his sexual gratification, he has committed a sex crime. This could mean a lifetime of consequences, including a spot on the sex offender registration list. The same goes for any voluntary sexual activity between two 16-year-olds. Both could be prosecuted, even if there was mutual sexual consent, because the age of consent has not been reached.

There is significant debate over the efficacy of these laws. People on both sides of the argument reach to the “morality” of the situation, particularly whether there should be a zero-tolerance system in place for these offenses. 

Today, 38 out of 50 states in the country have enacted some form of close-in-age exemption laws, otherwise known as “Romeo and Juliet” laws, to defend minors under 16 who willingly engage in sexual intercourse. While they all vary to some extent, mostly all states have instituted age gaps between teens to prohibit them from being prosecuted, or at least limiting the sentence. 

That is not the case in Massachusetts. Because there is not a close-in-age exemption law here, there is no protection for participants involved in a consensual sexual activity that are close in age to each other, or one or both are below the age of consent, which is under 16. The thinking is that a person under 16 cannot fully understand the consequences involved in the decision to engage in sexual activities.

In fact, the result of two partners under the age of 16, or just one underage partner, in Massachusetts who are both willing to engage in intercourse could be prosecuted for statutory rape, which carries severe penalties in the state. This takes the power of consent from the minor under 16. If the minor is of “chaste,” or faithful, life, and the offender talks them into having sex, the age of consent is raised to 18 years old. 

What Are the Prosecution Arguments for Statutory Rape in Massachusetts?

Rape offenses in Massachusetts, which can be committed by both males and females, are one of the most severe felonies. Therefore, to convict someone, the prosecutor must be able to prove that:

  • The defendant emphatically had sexual intercourse, both natural and unnatural, with the alleged victim. (Natural intercourse pertains to penetration of the female’s vagina with the penis; unnatural intercourse includes sexual intercourse activities, including oral or anal intercourse, or inserting an object into the other partner’s orifice.)
  •  The alleged victim was under 16, or the age of consent, at the time of the sexual encounter.

Overall, keep in mind, there is a wide variety of strategies to prosecute statutory rape, including proof of the age of consent-related crimes.

What is the Punishment for Statutory Rape in Massachusetts?

Again, the punishment for statutory rape in Massachusetts is harsh, with the severity depending on the crime and the ages of those involved in the sexual act being prosecuted. Punishment could be a sentence ranging from any number of jail terms to life in prison. 

Punishment can be even more severe for defendants involved in cases in which:

  • The child is under 12 years old.
  • The child is under 16, and the defendant is at least 10 years older.
  • The defendant has been convicted of sexual abuse or has a criminal record.
  • The defendant is an authorized child abuse reporter, such as a teacher, doctor, or clergy member.

After conviction, the offender’s punishment will probably continue after jail time. If found guilty of statutory rape in Massachusetts, consequences also include the requirement to register as a sex offender. This will restrict them from being a certain distance from minors and not living close to places that are likely to have minors, such as schools or parks. Periodically, registered sex offenders are also required to provide personal information to local police, which may also be made public. 

What Can be Used as a Defense for Statutory Rape in Massachusetts?

Yes, it is possible to successfully defend statutory rape in Massachusetts. An experienced criminal law attorney will know the defense strategies that do or do not work.

What cannot be used as a defense for statutory rape:

  • The case of a mistaken belief that the minor is over age 16. Even if the minor claimed to be 16 or over, or the defendant assumed the other party looked to be 16 or older, a guilty charge is still highly likely.
  • If the minor consented. Under the age of consent laws in Massachusetts, even if the minor consents, that minor cannot give consent.

What can be successfully used as a defense for statutory rape:

  • The age of the defendant. If the minor in the sexual act was close to the defendant’s age at the time of the crime, less severe charges might be handed out.
  • The defendant has no criminal record. If the defendant has a clean record, charges may not completely be dropped, but may not be as severe. 

More FAQs Related to Statutory Rape in Massachusetts

  • How does the legal consent age in Massachusetts compare to other states? 

The average legal age of consent can range from 16 to 18 years old.

  • Can a 19-year-old date a 15-year-old? 

While it is not a crime, it is not recommended. Wait until the minor turns 16. Remember, statutory rape in Massachusetts is the result of one participant under age 16, and indecent assault and battery occurs if the minor is touched sexually without consent.

Next Steps for Legal Defense in a Statutory Rape Case in Massachusetts

For those charged with the crime of having sexual intercourse with a minor in Massachusetts, immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney that is trusted to navigate through the serious consequences and penalties of statutory rape and fight for your rights. 

At Riccio Law, we have handled hundreds of cases like this, thoroughly investigating every detail and evidence to understand the specifics of the situation and to come out of the courtroom with success.