Can an 18-Year-Old Date a 16-Year-Old?

Last Modified: April 11, 2023
April 11, 2023 | Rabin Nabizadeh | Child Abuse and Endangerment

Can an 18 year old date a 16 year oldSome adolescents and teens tend to start dating when they are in middle school and high school. Therefore, having a girlfriend or boyfriend is not unusual for a 16-year-old. However, what happens if that girlfriend or boyfriend is over 18?

If you get charged with a sex crime involving a minor, you must understand that the situation is dire. Even charges, let alone a conviction, can change your life instantly. So, is it a legal issue for an 18-year-old to date a 16-year-old?

Learn more about this situation, laws, and penalties by reading more information below.

Is It Illegal for a 16-Year-Old to Date an 18-Year-Old?

It’s imperative to know that there is no legal definition of dating. In line with this, is it illegal for a 16-year-old to form a dating relationship with an 18-year-old? Whether this relationship is legal or not will vary heavily depending on the nature of the relationship.

For example, there is certainly nothing wrong with an 18-year-old going out to dinner and a movie with a 16-year-old. Teenagers may want to go to a local museum or walk in the park. At this point, you shouldn’t have to worry about any legal issues.

On the other hand, if someone over 18 engages in a sexual relationship with someone 16 years old, the relationship can involve legal repercussions.

Is It Illegal To Have Sexual Relations With a Minor?

Is it illegal to have sexual relations with a minorYes, it is illegal to have a sexual relationship with a minor. In California, it is illegal for someone over the age of 18 to have sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 18.

Suppose someone under 18 participates willingly. In that case, the sexual act is still considered illegal under the law. That is because, legally, someone under the age of 18 is not capable of giving consent to sexual activity in California.

What Is the Age of Consent?

The age of consent is 18 in California. This concept means that someone under 18 cannot legally consent to sexual activity even if they want to participate willingly.

For example, someone who is 16 years old cannot simply decide to engage in sexual contact with an adult. This act, in turn, would be considered a crime that will hold the 18-year-old or over liable.

How Does Romeo and Juliet Law Work?

How does romeo and juliet law workIn California, a particular law is used in similar cases mentioned above, and it works out to be a strong criminal defense. It is called the Romeo and Juliet Law. This law creates an exception for the rules on criminal liability in engaging in sexual activity with a 16-year-old. The Romeo and Juliet Law lays its anchor on the age gap between the two parties.

In California, someone cannot be charged with the felony of statutory rape provided that the individual under 18 consented to sexual activity willingly and the age difference between the two participants is three years or less. On the other hand, the defendant could still face misdemeanor charges.

About Other States That Do Not Have Romeo and Juliet Laws

Other states do not have Romeo and Juliet Laws in place either. While this is unusual, prosecutorial discretion is still highly regarded in all states.

Every case is different, and the prosecutor controls the cases they bring before trial. Therefore, it is critical to work with a criminal defense attorney who can analyze the individual circumstances of their case and advise them on the best course of action.

About the Federal Law

In the United States, 18 years old is the age of consent. It means that someone who is under the age of 18 cannot consent to sexual acts.

While the federal government does not have a Romeo and Juliet Law, many individual states do. Therefore, working with a criminal defense attorney who understands how this type of law could apply in certain states is crucial.

Does a State’s Definition of “Sexual Conduct” Matter?

Yes, the definition of sexual conduct does vary from state to state, and it can heavily influence the nature of the charges against you.

For example, the penalties for a conviction of statutory rape are very different from those for a conviction of lewd and lascivious acts. Even if your defense attorney cannot get your criminal charges dismissed entirely, there is still a chance that you could strike a plea bargain to a lesser charge, which could help you avoid jail time or being registered as a sex offender.

What Could be Considered Lewd and Lascivious Acts (Penal Code § 288(a))?

What could be considered lewd and lascivious actFor example, if you engage in sexual activity with a minor, you could be charged with lewd and lascivious acts.

If you physically touch the sexual organs of a child, you will still be charged under this law in California. Whether you perform this activity over or under clothing, you can still be charged with a felony and face multiple years in state prison.

What Is Statutory Rape (Penal Code § 261.5)?

Statutory rape takes place when someone above the age of 18 engages in sexual activities with someone under the age of 18, even if the individual under the age of 18 willingly participates in the activity. You could use the Romeo and Juliet Law as a defense, but remember that this may only prevent you from being charged with a felony. You may still be charged with a misdemeanor.

Sentencing for Statutory Rape Charges

If you get charged with statutory rape as a misdemeanor in California, you could face up to a year in the county jail. However, if you are charged with a felony, you could face a significantly longer sentence in the local prison.

Various factors will affect how a young person is sentenced in court. One of the most significant factors is the age difference between the adult party and the minor victim. It is another viable reason you need to work with a criminal defense attorney who can provide you with a strong defense.

What Do You Need to Do When Facing Charges for Sexual Conduct With a Minor?

What do you need to do when facing chargesIf you are facing charges of sexual conduct with a minor, there are several essential steps you need to take. They include the following:




  • You need to make sure you stay silent and ask for your lawyer. Do not discuss the nature of your charges with anyone, as anything you say could be used against you.
  • If you are arrested, you need to cooperate with the arresting officer. You do not want to do anything that could worsen your situation.
  • It will help if you also contact a criminal defense attorney immediately for a case consultation. You are entitled to a strong defense, and reputable law firms can provide all the legal assistance you need.

Remember that the penalties for a conviction of sexual conduct with a minor can follow you for a lifetime, which is why you need to put forth the strongest possible defense.

How Can a Legal Representative Help You?

There are several ways our criminal defense attorney can help you. Some of the reasons why you need to work with a California sex crimes lawyer include:

  • They can examine your situation to see if the Romeo and Juliet law and its age gap, or if other consent laws, apply.
  • They can look for witnesses who can support you with an affirmative defense.
  • They can file discovery motions to ensure they understand the nature and quantum of evidence against you.
  • They will discredit the prosecution’s evidence, which can strengthen your case.
  • They are willing to negotiate a plea bargain on your behalf, helping you avoid jail time or the registry.
  • They can prevent charges from being filed against you altogether. 

If you are getting investigated for sexual conduct with a minor, contact a trusted law firm for a free case consultation as soon as possible. Statutory rape laws can be confusing, and the best lawyers can provide you with the strongest defenses.

Schedule an Initial Consultation With Our Seasoned Summit Defense Attorney

Summit Defense AttorneyAt Summit Defense, we have vast experience representing individuals who have faced charges of sexual activity with a minor. Anyone is innocent until proven guilty, and we will listen to your situation without judgment or reservation.

Contact us today to schedule your free consultation, and let us provide you with the defense and legal assistance you deserve.

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