Using Florida's Romeo and Juliet Law to Remove Names From Florida's Sex Offender List
In 2007, Florida enacted Florida Statute 943.04354, which is widely known as the “Romeo and Juliet law,” after the teen-age lovers in Shakespeare’s play. The law was passed due to concerns that high school age youth were being required to register as sexual offenders for participating in consensual sexual relationships with partners of similar ages. The legislature designed the law to separate offenders who pose a real risk to children from those who had consensual sex with their peers. The law provides a way for individuals who were young adults or teens at the time of the offense to petition the court for relief from the requirement to register as a sexual offender and sexual predate
According to a recent report in the Tampa Bay Times, 250 people so far have obtained relief under this statute. To obtain relief, the person must file a petition showing that the removal of the registration requirement will not conflict with federal law and the person meets the following criteria:
- The crime occurred on or after July 1, 2007.
- The person is required to register as a sexual offender or sexual predator solely because of the crime at issue.
- The person is no more than four years older than the victim of the violation. The courts have strictly construed this requirement, denying relief to individuals who are more than four years older than the victim, even if only by a matter of weeks.
- The victim of the violation was 14 years of age or older but not more than 17 years of age at the time the person committed the crime.
- The person was convicted or adjudicated delinquent because of a consensual sexual act.
After the petition is filed, a hearing must be held, and the state attorney is required to give public notice of the petition at least 21 days before the hearing. The state attorney has the right to argue that the petition should be denied and may present evidence in opposition.
The statute provides that the court must rule on the petition, and if the court determines that the person meets the statutory criteria and the removal of the registration requirement does not conflict with federal law, “it may grant the petition.” Thus, the court has discretion to grant the petition or to deny it. Moreover, if the court denies the petition, the person cannot file any further petition for removal of the registration requirement.
The person must provide a certified copy of the court’s order removing the requirement that the person register as a sexual offender or predator to the Department of Law Enforcement. Then, the registration requirement does not apply, and the department must remove all information regarding person from its public registry of sexual offenders and sexual predators. Nonetheless, the public will still be able to get access to information about the person’s criminal history or record if it is available as a public record.
While the law does not require that petitions under this statute be filed by lawyers, it may be useful to be represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.