Most states make it a criminal offense (statutory rape) to have sexual intercourse with a person under the age of consent—which is usually between 16 and 18 years of age. These laws are premised on the belief that a person under the age of consent is not capable of giving informed consent to sexual intercourse—even if the person was a willing participant. Statutory rape may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor offense or as a felony offense—depending on the state’s laws and the ages and circumstances of the sexual activity.
But many states recognize a defense to such a criminal offense if the persons engaged in the sexual activity were close in age—within three years, for example—provided the persons were at least 14 years of age, for example. These laws are sometimes called Romeo-and-Juliet laws, and are usually located in a state’s statutes, in the penal or criminal code.