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Our nation’s Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. This also applies to fair treatment for anyone accused of a crime. The importance of context cannot be overstated. Sadly, context and common sense are often disregarded when it comes to prosecuting sex offenses.
When you hear the term “sex offender,” you might imagine a serial child molester who has no remorse and is incapable of reform. For such offenders, you might support the harshest punishments. But what about a teenager who has consensual sex with a slightly younger teenager? Does he deserve to be labeled a “sex offender” and punished accordingly? Unfortunately, public hysteria has led to the passage of draconian sex crimes laws that often fail to differentiate between offenses and/or make it impossible for judges to use such discretion.
A recent article in the New York Times discusses a case that most reasonable people will find difficult to believe. A 19-year-old man living in a Midwestern state met a girl the same way that most teenagers do: Online. They hit it off and decided to meet up just over the border (she lived in a neighboring state). They had a consensual sexual encounter which seemed legal, as the girl said she was 17 years old. In reality, she was only 14 years old.
The young man was sentenced to a short jail sentenced followed by probation. Although he was acting based on misinformation, such a sentence could potentially be considered appropriate. But this otherwise law-abiding young man was also sentenced to register for life as a sex offender. And he has been banned from using the internet for five full years – a punishment which will almost certainly mean that he has to drop out of college.
According to the Times article, there were several things that went wrong in this case, including an activist judge who seems to have disregarded his legal duties and instead delivered a ruling based on his own disapproval of internet dating and teen hookup culture. Nonetheless, the outcomes in this case are not unique, and they are ruining young lives across the United States.
It is clear that sex crimes laws in America are in need of reform. Until or unless that happens, anyone facing sex offense charges (of any kind) is in serious jeopardy. If you are in this position, please ensure that your rights are protected by seeking the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.