The issue of teenagers having sex has been a debate for the Michigan Legislature for many years. While it may be a regular thing for a high school senior to have sex with a first-year high school student, this is still a crime and is phrased as a charge of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC 3) under current legislation. When the two consenting parties have consensual sex, we are dealing with the “Romeo and Juliet” law.
Under the Romeo and Juliet law, while Michigan recognizes that teenagers engage in consensual sex, it still prohibits such acts. It simply changes the punishment with the understanding that the Circuit Court judge will still dictate sentencing. Suppose the older “consenting” teens are age18 or younger and within four years of the other teen. In that case, the punishment now does not include registering as a sex offender. However, the older teen still faces the possibility of incarceration and will still have a criminal record. The change to the law only applies where the younger teen is age 13-16 and does not apply in cases where the sex was forcible. The law is not necessarily retroactive. However, a criminal defense attorney can petition to have a person convicted of such sexual misconduct removed from the registry if the circumstances fit the Romeo and Julie law.
The Romeo and Juliet law topic gained momentum on Google (www.google.com) when an “Above The Law” article was published on Wyoming State Senator Anthony Bouchard. (www.abovethelaw.com) state senator stirred up controversy when he did a Facebook Live post on May 21, 2021. In the post, Senator Bouchard attempted to put a positive spin on impregnating a 14-year-old girl when he was 18. (www.Facebook.com). This called into the question of how Michigan law would legislate this issue. To gain further insight into this law, we spoke to several of the top attorneys in the State of Michigan.
Matthew McManus is the founder of McManus and Amadeo, one of the top criminal defense firms in Michigan. (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/). McManus stated, “We have been researching this issue for several years now. What is interesting is in the Bouchard case is how different counties in Michigan could address the charge.”
Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and one of the top divorce lawyers in Michigan. (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/). “The charge may very well likely be a CSC 3 with HYTA and limited jail in our state, but the pregnancy causes an injury. The injury could equate to force and coercion.”
William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is considered by many to be the top criminal lawyer in Michigan. (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/). Amadeo was angered when he said, “So a senior gets a freshman pregnant when they had consensual sex, and now a prosecutor on the warpath could charge with a CSC 1 which could lead to life in prison for two teenagers that were not careful enough to use protection. That is an abuse of authority, and I have dealt with this issue in certain counties.”
Christian Wiesenberg is the founder of “The Fidelis Law Firm” and the Executive Director for “The Adolescence Redemption Project.” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/christian-wiesenberg-5632a164/). (https://www.adolescentredemptionproject.org/). Wiesenberg added, “When you see the Facebook Live of Senator Bouchard, it speaks to why HYTA is being raised from 17 to 23 to 26. With youthful offenders, we need to treat them differently, which is the whole purpose of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Ashlee Duplessis is the founder of “Duplessis Law” and one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Macomb County, Michigan. (https://detroitlegaldefense.com/). Duplessis stated, “I’m not familiar with Wyoming Law, but in Michigan, Senator Bouchard would’ve had some legal entanglements in 2021. The pregnancy of the 14-year-old child could wash away the arguments for HYTA if the defense lawyer is not on top of their game. An HYTA Petition is a must even in counties that may not require it.” (http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(gzi332tdduonur2rcaeyfh0i))/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-762-11).
Megan Mast is an Associate Attorney for Tannis Schultz in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (https://www.tanisschultz.com/about-us/megan-a-mast/). Mast is a top criminal litigator in Kent County, Michigan, and said, “Many judges will not provide a Cobbs Agreement in these cases, and a Killebrew Agreement may also be disregarded. People v. Cobbs, 443 Mich 276 (1993), People v. Killebrew, 416 Mich 189 (1992)] When you find yourself in a situation such as the one that Senator Bouchard addressed, an HYTA Petition and a strong sentencing memorandum would have to be at the center of the defense attorney’s work product.”
While the view on this law can be altered from county to county, this becomes a topic where the Pre-sentence Investigation Report (PSIR) may dictate the direction of the sentence. Communication with the county probation department is often overlooked and is essential in a scenario such as this.