Does SC Have a Romeo Law?

SC does have a “Romeo” law that is contained in our CSC with a minor statute.

It’s also known as a “close in age exemption,” or a “Romeo and Juliet law,” and it protects teenagers from being prosecuted for CSC with a minor when they have technically violated the statutory rape laws but are so close in age that it does not make sense to prosecute them.

Below, I’ll discuss SC’s Romeo law, including:

  • What SC’s Romeo provision says,
  • What statutory rape means in SC,
  • The age of consent in SC, and
  • Misinformation I see on other attorney websites in the Charleston, SC area.

What is a Romeo Law?

The “Romeo provision,” “Romeo and Juliet law,” or “close in age exemption” is a provision contained in SC’s CSC with a minor law that protects teenagers who are close in age from being prosecuted for statutory rape.

The CSC with a minor laws are intended to protect children from sexual abuse by adults or by children who are significantly older than the victim. They are not intended to prosecute teenagers for having sex with teenagers – which is something that teenagers will do, like it or not.

If you allow a 16-year-old to be prosecuted, convicted, and placed on the sex offender registry for consensual sex with a 15-year-old, what purpose does that serve? It becomes a tool for vindictive parents who do not like their child’s boyfriend or girlfriend, and nothing more…

This doesn’t mean that children who are close in age cannot be prosecuted for forcible rape – it applies only to consensual sex between two teenagers who are close in age.

SC’s CSC with a Minor Law Does Have a Romeo Law

SC‘s Romeo law is found in SC Code Section 16-3-655, SC’s CSC with a minor statute.

CSC with a minor second degree’s Romeo provision

Under this law, a person can be charged with CSC with a minor second degree if they “engage in sexual battery with a victim” who is 1) 14 years old or younger or 2) less than 16 years old and “the actor is in a position of familial, custodial, or official authority to coerce the victim to submit or is older than the victim.”

A person cannot be convicted under this law, however, if “he is eighteen years of age or less when he engages in consensual sexual conduct with another person who is at least fourteen years of age.”

CSC with a minor third degree’s Romeo provision

A person can also be charged with CSC with a minor third degree if they commit a “lewd act” upon the body of a child under the age of 16.

A person cannot be convicted under this law, either “if the person is eighteen years of age or less when the person engages in consensual lewd or lascivious conduct with another person who is at least fourteen years of age.”

Although I’m not aware of any cases on point, the second-degree Romeo provision can be interpreted as only applying to male actors (it uses the pronoun “he”), while the third-degree Romeo provision applies to anyone, male or female (using the phrase “the person” instead of the pronoun “he”).

What is Statutory Rape in SC?

Because it refers only to “consensual sex,” SC’s Romeo law applies to what is called “statutory rape.”

Statutory rape is when two individuals have consensual sex (no one is forcing anyone), but one of the individuals is under the age of consent. If you are older than 18 years of age, and you have consensual sex with someone who is under the age of consent in SC, you have committed rape – statutory rape.

What is the Age of Consent in SC?

The age of consent in SC is 16.

Although SC law does not say, “you can have sex with someone once they turn 16,” it is a crime to have sex with a child younger than 16 years old; therefore, the age of consent is 16.

But – if you are 18 or younger, and your boyfriend or girlfriend is 14 or older, the age of consent is technically 14 because of SC’s Romeo law.

Is Mistake of Age a Defense in SC?

Despite misinformation found on several SC law firm’s websites, mistake of age is not a defense to CSC with a minor charges in SC.

SC’s CSC with a minor statute contains a Romeo law, but it does not contain a mistake of age provision. Although there are no published appellate opinions on this point, the SC Court of Appeals has held in an unpublished opinion that mistake of age is not a defense:

As to whether the trial court erred in refusing to charge the jury on the defense of mistake of age, such a defense is not available under Section 16-3-655(B)(1) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2006): State v. Brown, 362 S.C. 258, 261-62, 607 S.E.2d 93, 95 (Ct. App. 2004) (“The law to be charged to the jury is determined by the evidence presented at trial.  If there is any evidence to support a jury charge, the trial judge should grant the request.  To warrant reversal, a trial judge’s refusal to give a requested jury charge must be both erroneous and prejudicial to the defendant.” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)); Penn. Nat’l Mut. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Parker, 282 S.C. 546, 554-55, 320 S.E.2d 458, 463 (Ct. App. 1984) (citation omitted) (“A well-established rule of statutory construction is expressio unius est exclusion alterius, which means that the enumeration of particular things excludes the idea of something else not mentioned.  Under the rule, exceptions made in a statute give rise to a strong inference that no other exceptions were intended.” (citations omitted)).

There is quite a bit of misinformation out there on this topic. If you need an accurate answer, look to the statutes and caselaw cited above, not attorney websites –

  1. SC does have a Romeo and Juliet Law, and
  2. SC does not allow a mistake of age defense to statutory rape.

Questions About SC’s Romeo Law?

If you have been charged with CSC with a minor second or third-degree in SC, but you are 18 or younger and your partner was 14 or older, you may fall under the exemption contained in SC’s Romeo and Juliet law.

Call Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send us a message to speak with a SC criminal defense lawyer today.