Age of Consent in NC: Understanding “Romeo and Juliet” Statutory Rape Laws

North Carolina age of consent

If you are in a sexual relationship with someone under the age of consent in North Carolina, you may be at risk of being charged with statutory rape or other sex crimes. A conviction for sexual offenses can lead to prison time and a lifetime spent on the national sex offender registry.

At Coolidge Law Firm, our criminal defense attorneys are experienced in the laws that govern the age of consent in NC. Our sex crime lawyers know how to fight for your due process rights when you have been charged with statutory rape and need legal representation. Join us as we explore the details that make up North Carolina’s Romeo and Juliet law and how engaging in sexual intercourse or other sexual relations with a person under the age of 18 can have long term effects on your life. 

In North Carolina, sexual intercourse with a minor is against the law. The federal legal age of majority in North Carolina is 18 years of age for voting and other adult privileges; however, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16 years of age. This means it is illegal for an adult (someone who is 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 16), even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape. 

Age of Consent Laws for Sexual Intercourse

In NC, statutory rape charges are subject to what is called the “age of consent.” When it comes to sexual intercourse, the age of consent in North Carolina is 16 years old. This means that a 16 year old may consent to vaginal intercourse. Persons under the age of 16 are minors and cannot legally consent to intercourse, as it is an adult decision. In NC, as far as sexual consent is concerned, a person is considered to be an adult at the age of 16.

Statutory Rape Laws

Statutory rape laws are based on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. When someone older than 18 has sex with someone younger than 16 years old, even when the sex is consensual, it is illegal, because, in the eyes of the law, a minor cannot legally give consent to sexual activity with someone 18 years of age or older. If you are found to have broken this law, you will be charged and potentially convicted of statutory rape and join the federal sex offender registry list. 

What is Statutory Rape vs Forcible Rape?

Statutory rape involves sexual activity with a minor, regardless of consent, due to their age. Forcible rape involves non-consensual sex through force or coercion. Although statutory rape does not require the prosecutor to prove an assault, it is still legally considered rape. However, when sexual intercourse is forced or involves an assault, it is illegal and prosecuted as forcible rape in North Carolina. 

Legality of Dating a Person Under the Age of Consent

While it is not illegal to date someone under the age of 16 in North Carolina, it is against the law to have sexual intercourse with someone who has not yet turned 16 years old. Therefore, dating someone who isn’t old enough for legally consent to sexual intercourse is not advisable. It’s easy to fall into a sexual relationship that feels consensual between two parties. However, adults or individuals over the age of 18 (the “defendant”) who engage in sexual activity with someone under the legal age of consent may be subject to arrest and criminal prosecution for very serious felony rape charges. 

Must Sex be Involved to be Prosecuted for Statutory Rape?

Since it is not illegal to date someone who is not yet 16 in the state of North Carolina, there must be evidence of sexual intercourse or sexual activity to be prosecuted for statutory rape. It is only when the relationship moves to sexual intercourse that a relationship with a minor becomes illegal. This is because the state of NC considers a person who is not yet 16 to be unable to make the decision to have intercourse.

Each state sets its own age of consent laws. As noted above, the age of consent for sexual intercourse in North Carolina is 16. This is lower than the federal age of majority for purposes of voting and other adult privileges, which is 18. The age of consent across the country is generally between the ranges of ages 15 through 18.

NC Romeo and Juliet law

What is the Romeo and Juliet Law in North Carolina? 

In North Carolina, there is a law called the “Romeo and Juliet” exemption, named after the young lovers in Shakespeare’s play of the same name. The Romeo and Juliet exemption is intended to prevent young people who are close in age and involved in a consensual sexual relationship from being charged with statutory rape.

This exemption is for a minor of any age under 18 who engages in sexual intercourse with another minor who is at least 12 years old with no more than four years of age between them. For example, a 17-year-old who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old cannot be criminally prosecuted in NC.

Does the Romeo and Juliet Law Exempt Forcible Rape?

The Romeo and Juliet law typically applies to consensual sexual activity between minors who are close in age, providing exemptions to statutory rape charges. However, it doesn’t apply to cases involving forcible rape, as it’s focused on consensual relationships. Forcible rape between minors would be prosecuted under different laws.

Potential Penalties for Statutory Rape

Statutory rape, defined as sexual activity with a minor who is below the age of consent of 16 years old, carries severe legal consequences. Understanding the potential punishments for this offense is essential for anyone facing such charges or seeking to comprehend its gravity and seriousness.


Conviction of statutory rape often results in imprisonment, with the length of the sentence varying depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances of the case. In some instances, particularly egregious cases with a minor under the age of 13, lengthy prison terms of 25 years may be imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense.


Fines are a common form of punishment for convictions of statutory rape for sexual intercourse with someone under the age of consent in NC. These monetary penalties can range from moderate to substantial amounts, with the exact sum determined by the court. Fines serve as both punishment and deterrence, aiming to discourage individuals from engaging in unlawful sexual activity with minors.

Registration as a Sex Offender

Sexual intercourse with someone under the age of consent in NC frequently leads to mandatory registration as a sex offender. This registration entails the individual’s personal information being listed in a public database accessible to law enforcement agencies and, in some cases, the general public. Being labeled as a sex offender can have profound and enduring consequences, affecting employment prospects, housing opportunities, and social relationships.

Probation and Community Service

In some cases, especially when the offense is less severe or the defendant has no prior criminal record, the court may opt for probation and community service as alternative punishments for statutory rape. Probation typically involves strict supervision by a probation officer and adherence to specified conditions, such as attending counseling or maintaining distance from minors.

Long-Term Consequences

Beyond immediate penalties, a statutory rape conviction can have lasting repercussions on various aspects of an individual’s life. These may include difficulty securing employment, restrictions on housing options, the loss of certain civil liberties, and challenges in personal relationships. Rebuilding one’s reputation and moving forward after engaging in sexual activity with someone under the age of consent in NC can be a formidable task.

What Are the Defenses Against North Carolina’s Age of Consent Law?

Statutory rape charges typically become more serious the younger the victim and the older the defendant. For example, vaginal intercourse with a child younger than 13 and an adult who is 18 or older is always a felony, and a conviction can result in at least 25 years of imprisonment. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27.23 (2018)).

Mistake of Age

A common claim by defendants accused of statutory rape is that they had no reason to know that their partner was under the age of consent. Their argument is usually that the child said he or she was of age and a reasonable person would have believed it. Even if this is true, in North Carolina, a defendant cannot rely on a mistake of age, regardless of how reasonable it may be, to avoid conviction. Most states do not consider the mistake of age as a valid legal defense.

Statutory Rape Marital Exception

North Carolina has a marital exemption for some statutory rape crimes. The exemption allows consensual sex between a married minor and that minor’s adult spouse, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-27.25, 14-27.30, 14-27.32 (2018).)  For example, if a couple is married and living in NC, and they are 15 and 23 years old, respectively, the 23-year-old cannot be charged for having consensual sex with the 15-year-old. However, if the 23-year-old forces the 15-year-old to have sex against their will, the older person has no protection under the law, even if they are married.

The Romeo and Juliet Exception

When a couple involves two people who are minors close in age, there is an exception called Romeo and Juliet. It is defined as consensual sex between a minor of any age and someone who is at least 12 years old and no more than four years older than the minor. For example, a 17-year-old who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old cannot be criminally prosecuted in N.C. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-27.24, 14-27.25 (2018).)

Do I Need a Defense Lawyer for Statutory Rape Charges?

Facing accusations of statutory rape is a serious and challenging ordeal. In such circumstances, enlisting the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer specializing in statutory rape cases can be crucial. Here are several key advantages of collaborating with a skilled sex crimes attorney in these delicate matters.

Criminal defense lawyers focusing on statutory rape cases possess specialized knowledge and extensive experience in handling these specific types of allegations. They are well-versed in the intricacies of relevant laws, legal precedents, and defense strategies pertinent to statutory rape charges.

A dedicated defense attorney is committed to safeguarding your constitutional rights throughout the legal proceedings. They will ensure that law enforcement authorities respect your rights during questioning, arrests, and court appearances, thereby minimizing the risk of any procedural violations that could compromise your case.

Comprehensive Case Evaluation

A seasoned defense lawyer conducts a thorough assessment of the facts, evidence, and circumstances surrounding the statutory rape allegations against you. They will identify potential weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, viable legal defenses, and opportunities to challenge the evidence presented against you.

Tailored Defense Strategies

Based on their analysis of the case, defense lawyers develop customized defense strategies tailored to your specific situation and objectives. They will outline the most effective legal approaches to pursue, whether it involves negotiating plea agreements, presenting mitigating evidence, or aggressively challenging the prosecution’s case in court.

Mitigation of Potential Consequences

Statutory rape convictions carry severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, and mandatory registration as a sex offender. A skilled defense lawyer works diligently to mitigate these consequences by seeking favorable outcomes, such as reduced charges, alternative sentencing options, or acquittal.

Guidance and Support

Accusations of statutory rape can be emotionally distressing and socially isolating. A compassionate defense attorney provides guidance, support, and reassurance throughout the legal process, helping you navigate the challenges with confidence and dignity.

Effective Representation in Court

A proficient defense lawyer serves as your advocate in court, presenting compelling arguments, cross-examining witnesses, and challenging the prosecution’s evidence with expertise and professionalism. Their courtroom experience and advocacy skills are invaluable assets in securing the best possible outcome for your case.

Contact the Criminal Defense Lawyers at Coolidge Law Firm 

The consequences of being convicted of statutory rape with a minor are devastating and can affect your entire life. If you have been accused of violating the laws for age of consent in NC, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Coolidge Law Firm. We can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and develop any defenses that apply to your case.

Call us today at (919) 239-8448 or fill out the contact form below. We represent clients in Wake Country, including Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville, Apex, Holly Springs, Garner, Wendell, Wake Forest, Rolesville, and Knightdale.


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