They were once Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, but today, Romeo and Juliet are sex offenders. Well...they were.
Until now, Michigan residents who broke the law as teens for having consensual sex with someone under 16 were lumped in with the rest of the Michigan sex offender registry. But last week, Governor Snyder signed a change in the law.
"The so-called Romeo and Juliet modification basically protects certain individuals from having to otherwise be on the sex offender list," said criminal defense attorney George Hyde.
Many acknowledge there's a clear difference between most sex offenders who should be on the list and those "Romeo and Juliets" who made a foolish decision in their youth.
Kathie Kunnari Mattson posted on Facebook: "I don't agree that teenagers should be involved in sexual activity at such a young age, but I also believe that the older of the two is not a sexual offender if it's consensual."
Others fear the law will encourage unacceptable behavior. Elisabeth Marta posted: "Why would anyone pass any law consenting teens to have sex...it bothers me to know that a 17 year old can have sex with a...13 year old."
Well Elisabeth, according to the law, having sex with someone under the age of 16 is still illegal and punishable by law. The Romeo and Juliet Law simply lessens the penalty for those who are no more than four years older than their sexual partner.
"Everything is still illegal and that's just a huge point for people to understand," Hyde said. "All criminal consequences that would otherwise be there are still there: jail time conviction of a felony offense. This law just recognizes certain circumstances where with people are within four years of each other in a consensual, most often, a dating relationship."
The bottom line: an 18 year old having sex with a 14 year old would not go on the sex offender list, but a 19 year old would.
The law is not automatically retroactive, but if you were previously placed on a sex offender list for a Romeo and Juliet situation, you can now petition to have your name removed. The law becomes effective on July 1.