Yes, Colorado does have a Romeo and Juliet law. A minor under age 15 in Colorado can legally consent to sexual penetration with a person who is within four (4) years of his or her age. And a minor age 15 or 16 years of age can legally consent to sexual penetration with a person who is within ten (10) years of his or her age. Otherwise, the older person faces charges for statutory rape (C.R.S. 18-3-402).
What is statutory rape in Colorado?
17 years old is the age of consent in Colorado. Therefore, people age 16 and younger cannot legally consent to have sex with some exceptions discussed below.
So unless one of the exceptions discussed below applies, people who have penetrative sex with a person under 17 in Colorado can face rape charges. It makes no difference if the child initiated the sex or consented to the sex.
If the child is less than 15 — and the defendant is at least four (4) years older — statutory rape is a class 4 felony extraordinary risk crime. The penalty carries:
- 2 to 8 years in Colorado State Prison, and
- fines of $2,000 to $500,000, and
- registration as a Colorado sex offender
If the child is 15 or 16 — and the defendant is at least ten (10) years older — statutory rape is a class 1 misdemeanor extraordinary risk crime. The penalty carries:
- 6 to 24 months in jail, and
- fines of $500 to $5,000
A first-time misdemeanor conviction does not require the defendant to register as a sex offender, but a second-time conviction does.
The most effective defense to statutory rape charges is that no sex occurred, and that the victim lied about having sex. The state has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high bar. So if the case is simply a question of he said/she said, it may be very difficult for the state to convict the defendant.
What is the close-in-age exception?
Colorado lawmakers understand that teenagers may choose to have sex with their peers, and that this should not be a crime. Therefore, Colorado has a close-in-age exception to statutory rape where children under 17 may legally consent to sex. This is also called “Romeo and Juliet laws.”
A child who is under 15 can have sex with a person who is within four (4) years of his or her age. For example, a 14-year-old may have sex with a 17-year-old despite that the 14-year-old is below the age of consent. This is because the older person is within four (4) years of age of the child.
Meanwhile, children age 15 and 16 may have sex with a person who is within ten (10) years of their age. For example, a 16-year-old may have sex with a 25-year-old person. This is because the older person is within ten (10) years of age of the child.
Note that Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet laws only apply when the sex is consensual. If one of the people forces the other person to have sex, then that person could be charged with rape no matter their ages.