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At 16, the age of consent in Michigan is lower than most states. Legally speaking, a person who is under the age of 16 is deemed incapable of giving consent for sexual activity. But what happens if a 15-year-old is in a consensual relationship with a 17-year-old? Would the 17-year-old face criminal charges if the two had sexual intercourse?

In this blog, we will take a look at Michigan’s so-called Romeo and Juliet law and how this influences sex crime charges for young adults who are in relationships with minors.

Criminal Sexual Conduct: Michigan Penal Code § 750.520e

Michigan Penal Code § 750.250e describes the offense of criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree, which involves engaging in sexual activity with a minor. This misdemeanor is punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to $500.

Criminal sexual conduct is illegal because of the age of the two parties and/or their relationship. Age comes into play if one party is younger than the age of consent and the other is over the age of consent. The relationship is applicable if the elder party holds some power, influence, or authority over the younger party, such as a teacher and a student.

Age of consent is important. It is meant to protect minors from engaging in activity that they don’t fully understand or from being pressured into doing something they don’t want to do. But there are situations where two young people are in a committed and consensual relationship and one could be at risk of facing criminal charges simply because of his or her age.

Many states, including Michigan, have enacted Romeo and Juliet laws that provide exceptions for criminal charges—when the two parties are close enough in age.

Close-in-Age Exemptions: What Age Gap Is Allowed?

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet was 13 years old. Romeo’s age is never specified, but some say he was anywhere from 16 to 21 years old. Most agree he was several years older than Juliet. The story goes that the two find forbidden love, secretly marry, and end up taking their own lives. While fictional, this tragedy portrays the love two young people can share and is therefore an appropriate namesake for modern close-in-age exemptions.

Michigan’s Romeo and Juliet law provides protection for a person who has engaged in consensual sexual conduct with a minor if:

  • The minor was at least 13 years old at the time.
  • The age difference between the two parties is less than 5 years.

Here are a few examples: a 17-year-old who is in a relationship with a 14-year-old would be protected under this law. A 19-year-old in a relationship with a 15-year-old would also be protected. An 18-year-old in a relationship with a 13-year-old would not be protected.

Sexual Contact vs. Sexual Intercourse

Another key part of Michigan’s Romeo and Juliet law involves the distinction between sexual conduct and sexual intercourse. Sexual conduct may be described as contact of a sexual nature with another person, under or over the clothing. Sexual intercourse involves actual penetration, no matter how slight.

Close-in-age exemptions do not apply if sexual intercourse (penetration) occurred. If an 18-year-old has sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old, he or she could face felony charges for criminal sexual conduct of the third degree—punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Talk to a Sex Crime Defense Attorney Today

If you’ve been accused of statutory rape, criminal sexual conduct, or any crime, your entire future is at stake. You may be protected by Michigan’s Romeo and Juliet law, but questions may arise about the nature of your relationship and whether it escalated beyond sexual conduct. Cases like these need to be handled carefully and strategically to make sure your reputation is protected, along with your freedom.

As a Farmington Hills criminal defense lawyer, I have proudly served clients in Oakland County and throughout the surrounding communities since 2002. I know how to deal with law enforcement officers, prosecuting attorneys, judges, and court personnel. I understand the ins and outs of Michigan’s many laws pertaining to sex offenses, age of consent, and more. I realize how sensitive cases involving sex crimes can be, and I fight tirelessly to help my clients avoid the many serious repercussions of a conviction.

Call (248) 599-0054 today to find out how my firm can help you.