Teen Rape Case Highlights Unfairness of Sex Offender Laws

A 19-year-old convicted of rape after he had sex with a 14-year-old girl who lied about her age may be one step closer to justice after a judge threw out his sentence and ordered that he be re-sentenced by a randomly selected judge. 

Zachary Anderson was 19 years old when he met a girl online in an "over 18" website. The girl told Anderson that she was 17 years old, and the pair struck up an online relationship. They decided to meet, and Anderson drove to the girl's home to pick her up. They went to a nearby school, where they talked for a while and eventually had sex. Anderson then took the girl home, gave her a hug, and dropped her off.

Sheriff's deputies were waiting. 

The girl's mother had summoned them after her daughter had not quickly returned home. She was afraid that the teen, who has epilepsy, had missed a dose of her medication and may have suffered a seizure. 

It was several days later before he found out she had lied about her age. She was only 14.

Anderson was arrested and charged with a sex crime against a minor.

His defense attorney recommended that he plead guilty to fourth degree criminal sexual misconduct, making him a good candidate for Holmes Youthful Trainee Act status. The Holmes Youthful Trainee Act is intended to grant leniency to first offenders who are older than 17 but not yet 21. In the case of minor sex offenses, it removes the requirement that the defendant register as a sex offender.

The girl in the case felt that nothing should happen to Anderson. She did not feel victimized by him, and she was upset that it was he who was in trouble, when she was the one who lied. Even her mother asked for leniency for Anderson. 

However, the judge in the case did not rule in favor of leniency. The young man who had consensual sex with a girl who lied about her age was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 5 years of probation, and 25 years of sex offender registration. Because of the requirements of sex offender registration, he had to give up pursuing a degree in computer science. He had to move out of his parents' house. He has an 8:00 p.m. curfew, and he is not allowed to be around people only a few years younger than he is.

None of that seems like justice, nor does it seem necessary for the protection of public safety.

Now, a judge has vacated the sentence--not he feels the sentence is wrong, but because a prosecutor veered from his negotiated recommendation in sentencing and because the pre-sentencing report included false information without evidence about the defendant's character.

The judge denies that he sentenced Anderson based upon the prosecutor's recommendation; instead, he says, it was obvious that the girl was underage, and that Anderson should have known better. However, due to errors, and the fact that he had not given his rationale at sentencing, he felt that the sentence must be vacated.

Hopefully, the next judge will sentence with real justice in mind.

While this case happened in Indiana, it is important to note that Oklahoma's law regarding the prosecution of someone who has sex with a minor is similar. Statutory rape, or consensual sex with a minor too young to legally consent, is a per se offense. This means that if the act occurred, a crime occurred--regardless of whether or not the defendant knew how old the "victim" was, and regardless of whether or not the "victim" actually lied about his or her age in order to have sex.

One difference, though, is that in Oklahoma, second degree rape is a Level 3 sex offense. Instead of registering as a sex offender for 25 years, as Anderson does, a person convicted of second degree rape in Oklahoma must register as a sex offender for life.     

Image Credit: Day Donaldson  

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