Philadelphia Criminal Law News

Romeo and Juliet Laws and Statutory Rape in Pennsylvania

Last week, we heard the story of a teenage sex-tape scandal, in which the son of the mayor of Leesport, near Reading, was suing his school after being suspended for having consensual sex with his girlfriend while on a school trip.

That was a personal injury lawsuit, in which Anders Hemdal, the mayor's 16-year-old son, was seeking damages for an alleged violation of due process and emotional distress.

Nevertheless, the story presents an interesting question about consensual sex between minors and what that means in Pennsylvania.

Basically, we're going to talk about so-called "Romeo and Juliet" laws -- the laws of consent.

When we talk about Romeo and Juliet laws, we're talking about the concept of statutory rape. Essentially, statutory rape occurs when someone engages in sexual relations with another person who is under the age of consent.

Statutory rape isn't always by force. Note that it's consensual in many cases, which means that the minor was not forced to have sex.

In Pennsylvania, the age of consent is 16. This means kids 16 and over can have consensual sex without ending up on a sex-offender registry.

But statutory rape is a crime. It can lead to arrest, jail time and even registry as a sex offender.

And the problem with statutory rape is that it can happen without the offender really grasping the idea that he or she is committing a crime. Many people simply aren't aware of the severity of the crime or its ramifications.

Statutory rape is considered a second degree felony in Pennsylvania, if the minor is less than 11 years younger than the offender. If the minor is more than 11 years younger, then we're looking at a first degree felony.

Romeo and Juliet laws, however, cover situations in which both parties to a sexual act are underage. Romeo and Juliet laws typically treat underage sexual partners differently, often with more lenient punishments, when they're close in age.

Under Pennsylvania's law, for example, sex between minors (under 16) who are less than four years apart in age is not a crime.

In the story of Anders Hemdal, neither he nor his then-girlfriend are being prosecuted for underage sex.

As for the dissemination of the sex video, that will soon fall under Pennsylvania's new underage sexting law.

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