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Illinois Statutory Rape Laws: Romeo and Juliet Exception

Couple in love holding hearts.

Statutory rape laws render it unlawful for someone to engage in even “consensual” sexual activity with a minor. Statutory rape laws operate on the principle that minors lack the maturity and mental capacity to legally consent to sexual activity. Different states have different rules regarding the age of consent. Different states also have different exceptions to the rule–for example, depending on the state, a person just over the age of consent might not be liable for engaging in consensual sexual acts with someone just under the age of consent, given their proximity in age (e.g., an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old). These exceptions to the general rule are known as the “Romeo and Juliet” exception, named after the young lovers in the famous Shakespeare play.

Continue reading to learn about the statutory rape laws in Illinois, and how the Romeo and Juliet exception operates. If you’ve been arrested or charged with statutory rape or other crimes in Illinois, call a zealous Chicago criminal defense attorney as soon as you can.

Illinois Age of Consent

In Illinois, the age of consent is 17. Under the general rule, anyone aged 17 or older can be charged for having sex with someone aged 16 or younger, even if the acts were otherwise “consensual.” Additionally, if two 16-year-olds engage in sexual activity, technically they can both be charged with criminal sexual abuse of the other person.

At 17, Illinois law considers the person mature enough to consent to sex, with one exception. If a person is engaging in sexual activity with someone that has authority over the youth (such as a family member, legal guardian, coach, or teacher), then the age of consent is boosted to 18.

Sexual Assault, Sexual Abuse, and the Romeo & Juliet Exception

In Illinois, statutory rape can be charged as sexual abuse or sexual assault. Sexual abuse generally means sexual contact, such as touching or fondling. Sexual assault governs sexual penetration, including contact between the sex organ or anus of one person and an object or the sex organ, mouth, or anus of another person, as well as other forms of penetration.

Criminal sexual abuse can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony (aggravated sexual abuse), while criminal sexual assault is always a felony.

Illinois law does not fully excuse sexual activity between two young people. Instead, the Illinois version of the Romeo and Juliet exception is to allow for lesser charges for two young people within close proximity of age, even if they engage in intercourse or other penetration (which would otherwise be chargeable as felony sexual assault). A person can be charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse, rather than felony sexual assault, when they engage in sexual contact or sexual penetration with:

  • A victim aged 9-16, but the defendant is also under age 17
  • A victim who is at least age 13, but the defendant is less than five years older than the victim

Misdemeanor sexual abuse is still a serious charge, punishable by fines of up to $2,500, two years of probation, and up to a year in jail. The defendant can, however, avoid the most serious consequences of a felony sex offense conviction.

Call a Dedicated Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney in Chicago and Carol Stream

If you or someone you care about is facing statutory rape charges or other criminal charges in Illinois, protect your future and your family by seeking representation from compassionate, diligent Chicagoland criminal defense lawyers. Contact the Carol Stream offices of Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker & Newitt at 630-665-9600.

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