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Because the laws weren’t intended to punish two individuals close in age who engage in consensual sex, in many jurisdictions, an adult who is two or three years older than the minor will not be charged with statutory rape, or will be penalized less severely than a much older adult.
These so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws provide defenses and reduced penalties in cases where the couple is relatively close in age.
The statutory rape laws vary greatly from state to state, with more than half of the states setting the legal age of consent at 16 (other states range from 14 to 18).
For the most part, there is no single age at which a person can consent to sexual activity.
Depending on the state, Romeo and Juliet laws may reduce the severity of the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, reduce the penalty to a fine, probation, or community service, and/or eliminate the requirement that the convicted adult register as a sex offender.
The following are just a few examples of Romeo and Juliet laws currently in place in the United States: Exceptions and Other Considerations In addition to Romeo and Juliet laws, some states have specific exemptions when both parties to the sexual act are minors, or the person to be charged is legally married to the minor.
The purpose behind most statutory rape laws is to punish grown adults who take sexual advantage of a minor.
“In many cases, they are enforced largely by how angry the parents of the younger party are.” In some states, offenders have spent years in prison for statutory rape in situations similar to Jamie Lynn Spears’ while other states have prosecuted only egregious crimes.
One particularly shocking case drew international attention when 17-year-old Georgia resident, Genarlow Wilson, was charged with aggravated child molestation and sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.
She claimed it was rape, he claimed it was consensual, and a jury acquitted him of the charges.
However, because of their age difference, the jury still found Dixon guilty of statutory rape and aggravated child molestation, and sentenced him to a mandatory 10 years in prison under Georgia law.
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On April 27, 2008, he signed a three-year, $1.1 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys.