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What is Indiana's "Romeo and Juliet" Criminal Code?

In Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet are young lovers from families at war with each other. They meet, fall in love, find their love shaken by a series of violent incidents and die tragic deaths. Also, they’re young. Very young. We don’t know Romeo’s exact age, but Juliet was 13.

If you’re thinking in modern terms, that would put Juliet well below Indiana’s age of consent, which is 16. And if Romeo were at least 18? According to the Indiana criminal code, that would make him guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor. But we don’t know his age. Instead, Shakespeare focuses on the power of the couple’s love. And in some cases, Indiana also focuses more on a couple’s relationship than the age of consent.

A defense to two sex crimes

Fox news took a look at Indiana’s Romeo and Juliet defense when it was introduced in 2007. They said lawmakers added it to the law to prevent young people in ongoing relationships from becoming sex offenders.

The defense applies to some people accused of two different crimes:

  • Sexual misconduct with a minor
  • Child exploitation or possession of child pornography

People charged with either of these crimes may be able to use the Romeo and Juliet defense if they:

  • Are no more than 21 years old
  • Are no more than 4 years older than the victim
  • Were in a dating relationship with the victim
  • Had mutual consent

The defense lists some different caveats for each of the crimes, but the general idea remains the same: Indiana doesn’t want young people in reasonably loving relationships to be labeled as sex offenders.

When doesnt the Romeo and Juliet defense apply?

It’s important to remember that the Romeo and Juliet defense has limits:

  • It only applies to the two charges—not to others.
  • Ironically, the law doesn’t apply to anyone charged with crimes related to minors 13 years old or younger. Juliet was 13. But according to Indiana law, that would mean Romeo couldn’t use the Romeo and Juliet defense. Instead, he would face charges of child molesting.
  • The defense doesn’t apply to child pornography charges if the defendant shares the images. Sharing sexts with people outside the relationship can kill the defense.
  • There are other things, such as the use of threats, that can kill the defense.

At Kammen & Moudy, our attorneys understand it can be frightening to face criminal charges as the result of an ongoing relationship. That’s why we tirelessly pursue every right and defense our clients may be due, including their rights under the Romeo and Juliet defense.

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