Crime and Injustice

 

danger-sex-offender-lives-nLet’s stipulate that a 19-year-old man who arranges a cross-state hook-up with a 17-year-old girl he just met online is not winning prizes for sound judgement. Let’s further agree that if the girl looks a little on the young side — she was just shy of fifteen, her statements to him to the contrary — and he still has sex with her, he’s set himself up for a load of trouble.

Even so, Zach Anderson seems to have been the victim of both extraordinary bad luck and an abusive legal system (H/T: Reason’s Lenore Skenazy). Despite his lack of criminal record, his complete cooperation with authorities, and qualification for a first-time offender status (similar to the one Shaneen Allen was initially denied in New Jersey), and a plea agreement, Anderson still found himself sentenced to to 90 days in county jail, after which his real sentence begins: an additional five years on probation during which he cannot live in a residence with an internet connection or a smart phone and 25 years on Michigan’s sex offender registry.

The case has some odd details. The matter only came to law enforcement’s attention because the girl in question left her medication at home before leaving for the tryst and her mother called the police worried that she might suffer a seizure while out (all this was completely unknown to Anderson). Next, the prosecution suggested that Anderson had a history of harassing and sexually manipulating girls online, which turned out to have been done by someone else. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the prosecutor reneged — at least, according to Anderson and his attorney — on his agreement to not argue against the optional reduced sentencing. Finally, the judge in question seems to either be a blowhard or to do a credible impersonation of one from the bench.

Tough cases famously make for bad law and — given enough cases — some will inevitably fall through the cracks through bad luck, incompetence, or unforeseen circumstance. But this was a preventable injustice, a gaping chasm rather than a mere crack. Simply put, a law that cannot distinguish a genuine sexual predator from a young man with more hormones than sense is an inherently bad law, whose badness is only sightly mitigated by the existence of an optional get-out-of-jail-free card.

It’s not merely that Anderson deserves better, though he surely does. So do all the law enforcement officers who doubtless want to spend their time actually defending their communities. So, too, do the people of Michigan, whose taxes fund this nonsense and in whose name name this law is enforced. If they — and the people of other states with similarly bad laws — are serious about civil society and justice, it’s within their power to rectify the situation. A perfect fix isn’t necessary; a smart reform or two regarding the applicability of sex-offender registries and (perhaps) the option of a defense based on the victims’ fraud will likely do.

Published in Law
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  1. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    It’s hard to decipher when a case requires the full scope of punishment and when it’s a case of “bad luck.”  I wasn’t in the court room to evaluate.  The judge should have some flexibility in applying a sentence, and I tend to get the perception judges are too lenient, though I could be wrong.  As far as I’m concerned, I hardly ever side with the criminal.  Reason magazine articles look for these types of cases and slant them so to undermine the criminal justice system.

    • #1
  2. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Here in Nevada, if a 17 year old high school couple is dating (and having sex), if either turns 18 before the other, and they have sex, the 18 year old is a felon. Stupid. The law in not blind but stupid.

    • #2
  3. Steve in Richmond Member
    Steve in Richmond
    @SteveinRichmond

    I may be off by a year or two, but something tells me 100 years ago or so a 19 year old marrying a 15 year old was pretty normal.  We have now criminalized behavior which was far from out of the ordinary in fairly recent human history.  And there is only  more to come I am sure.

    • #3
  4. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    My sense is, the age of consent is going to be lowered.  Our schools (and our culture) are teaching our kids to be sexually active at very young ages, so the arbitrary 18 year old cut off doesn’t make sense any more.

    After all, children belong to the state, not the parents.

    • #4
  5. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Insane.  The girl should be prosecuted for fraud.

    • #5
  6. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    I would do away with sex offender registries altogether. The way I see it, if someone is deemed dangerous enough to necessitate placement on such a registry, they should never be let out of prison in the first place, and sentencing should reflect that. On the other hand, if they are deemed fit to rejoin society, I don’t see the use in making it difficult to impossible for them to become fully functioning legitimate citizens. That goes tenfold for anyone unjustly placed on the registry to begin with, like Mr. Anderson.

    • #6
  7. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: the option of a defense based on the victims’ fraud will likely do.

    Hahahaha. If a minor says something it is accepted without question even in the face of contradictory evidence — and especially during an election year when a conviction of a “pedophile” will play well in the local paper.

    I find the hypocrisy of a system that wants to throw the book at kids for having sex at the very same time they are implanting them with IUDs so they can have consequence free sex appalling. The culture warriors remove the limits, engage in lawfare which sets legal precedents with no limiting factors so that their own proclivities are accepted, and then goes out of their minds when others race past the new, legally irrational, social limits on sex. You get what you pay for, and in the case of this whore of a system, it’s the clap.

    • #7
  8. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    zepplinmike: On the other hand, if they are deemed fit to rejoin society, I don’t see the use in making it difficult to impossible for them to become fully functioning legitimate citizens.

    It’s the new scarlet letter. The way the system is wholly and terribly rigged against anyone who gets caught up into it –innocent or guilty — such an eternal punishment is the very definition and incarnation of injustice.

    • #8
  9. user_836033 Member
    user_836033
    @WBob

    This is an example of why governors can issue pardons.

    • #9
  10. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    As much as I like Reason, I’m not a fan of forming one’s political opinions based on individual anecdotal cases (be it this one, the Kate Steinle shooting, or the Charleston shooting).

    Last time I checked, we don’t have an epidemic in America of 19-year-olds whose lives are ruined for having consensual sex with 17-year-olds (and there is no doubt this type of sexual relationship occurs hundreds, if not thousands, of times per day in America). Is it a sad story? Yes. Is it really a problem in the US? I’m not convinced.

    • #10
  11. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    On the other hand, this anecdote reflects a trend in the US which disturbs me: our tendency toward “one-strike and you’re out”. It’s not just sexual offenders (where that policy might be justified), it’s all over the place: credit scores, college admissions, employment drug testing, you name it.

    One of America’s prior strengths was our willingness to forgive people small transgressions in their past, which allowed otherwise talented individuals to succeed – and took account of the fact that we’re all fallible. Now that a single inopportune private Facebook comment can permanently ruin one’s career, we’re trending toward a society of risk avoidance and box-checkers.

    • #11
  12. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    It’s cases like this that remind me that conservatives should actually get behind the whole “just tell men not to rape” meme, but with a twist.

    Way too few young men know much about the actual law surrounding sex. I really think that the Young Republicans should get on board and set up booths during campus “Sex Weeks” to educate men on the actual legal definitions and punishments for sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape, specifically for their own local jurisdictions.

    (Example: Up here in the Great White North, a person cannot ever legally consent to harm, because the constitution guarantees “security of the person”. As such, even if you secure written consent from a sex partner, as long as they can convince a judge that you inflicted “harm” you’re still on the hook for assault. Even many lawyers don’t know this, so what chance do drunken college students have?)

    I genuinely think a Young Republican “How Not To Be A Rapist” campaign could be very good for both conservatives and for young people, not to mention good PR for the Young Republicans.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    A-Squared:My sense is, the age of consent is going to be lowered. Our schools (and our culture) are teaching our kids to be sexually active at very young ages, so the arbitrary 18 year old cut off doesn’t make sense any more.

    After all, children belong to the state, not the parents.

    Up here in the Great White North, the Conservative government raised the age of consent … from 14 to 16.

    It had been 14 since the 19th Century.

    • #13
  14. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Misthiocracy: I genuinely think a Young Republican “How Not To Be A Rapist” campaign could be very good for both conservatives and for young people, not to mention good PR for the Young Republicans.

    It would be misconstrued as “how to rape and not be convicted of being a rapist” by the left.

    • #14
  15. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    The King Prawn:

    Misthiocracy: I genuinely think a Young Republican “How Not To Be A Rapist” campaign could be very good for both conservatives and for young people, not to mention good PR for the Young Republicans.

    It would be misconstrued as “how to rape and not be convicted of being a rapist” by the left.

    Well of course it would, but the right PR push could put that to conservatives’ advantage by putting the Left’s hypocrisy on display.

    “We’re doing what you SAID you wanted us to do. We’re telling men not to rape, and you STILL say we’re contributing to ‘rape culture’?!”

    Furthermore, depending on the law in a given jurisdiction, the message might turn out to be “The only way to avoid being a rapist is abstinence.”

    If they can convincingly twist telling young men to abstain from sex as somehow contributing to ‘rape culture’, I’d be impressed.

    • #15
  16. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    zepplinmike:I would do away with sex offender registries altogether. The way I see it, if someone is deemed dangerous enough to necessitate placement on such a registry, they should never be let out of prison in the first place, and sentencing should reflect that. On the other hand, if they are deemed fit to rejoin society, I don’t see the use in making it difficult to impossible for them to become fully functioning legitimate citizens. That goes tenfold for anyone unjustly placed on the registry to begin with, like Mr. Anderson.

    I agree with you here. One of the problems with sex crimes is that the range of “evilness” is very large. The largest problem of the sex offender registry is that it is difficult to put a rating on the dangerousness of the offender. This 19 year old kid and others like him should not be on the list, however that doesn’t mean all 19 years olds that had sex with 15 year olds should not be on the list.

    • #16
  17. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    Z in MT:

    I agree with you here. One of the problems with sex crimes is that the range of “evilness” is very large. The largest problem of the sex offender registry is that it is difficult to put a rating on the dangerousness of the offender. This 19 year old kid and others like him should not be on the list, however that doesn’t mean all 19 years olds that had sex with 15 year olds should not be on the list.

    Agreed, plus the vast majority of people would most likely jump straight to thinking “child molester” when they hear that a neighbor is a registered sex offender, and then react accordingly. But the crime could actually be one of many far more minor offenses. Some states actually put people charged with public urination on the registry too. Why should someone charged with such a stupid but usually harmless crime be on a registry with violent sex offenders? Keeping this in mind, Mr. Anderson’s plight is far from the only case in which someone was unjustly placed on the registry.

    That being said, I think the registries are bad policy for even actual dangerous sex offenders. I say either imprison someone for a crime or don’t. I don’t see how anyone involved benefits from the half-measure of releasing a possibly dangerous person but barring them from living in anything but a shadowy existence with a scarlet letter (as King Prawn aptly called it above).

    It’s my understanding that, finding it extremely difficult to find legitimate housing or employment opportunities while on the registry, a lot of offenders choose to simply disappear. Isn’t the whole idea to be able to keep tabs on them? How does driving them from society help with that? The whole thing strikes me as an ill-conceived theory of criminal justice.

    • #17
  18. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Diane Rehm (I know, I know) had a very interesting and reasonably balanced show on this topic this morning.

    Are there registries for other types of violent crime? If not, why not? If so, are the residency and employment restrictions similar to those imposed on sex offenders? Why is a convicted sex offender considered to be more dangerous to society upon his release than someone convicted of armed robbery or aggravated assault?

    • #18
  19. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    A-Squared:My sense is, the age of consent is going to be lowered. Our schools (and our culture) are teaching our kids to be sexually active at very young ages, so the arbitrary 18 year old cut off doesn’t make sense any more.

    After all, children belong to the state, not the parents.

    I agree that its creating a toxic mix. As children are learning/being taught more and more about casual sex, it will create more of these problems. Plus you get people with fake IDs at young age hanging out insinuating themselves with older teens.

    Charlotte:Diane Rehm (I know, I know) had a very interesting and reasonably balanced show on this topic this morning.

    Are there registries for other types of violent crime? If not, why not? If so, are the residency and employment restrictions similar to those imposed on sex offenders? Why is a convicted sex offender considered to be more dangerous to society upon his release than someone convicted of armed robbery or aggravated assault?

    Good point. I haven’t clicked on the link. But it seems its just an effect of the parent lobby and holdovers from the prudishness about sex. It’s wild. It forces sex offenders under bridges in some cases cause they can’t live by school districts… which are everywhere!

    • #19
  20. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    As NR readers know, Andrew McCarthy is both a prosecutor and a writer, and absolutely tough as nails. If you commit a crime, he’s the last person you want coming after you. But even he brought up a case slightly like this one, years ago. A teenager found out that the teenage girl next door had the habit of skinny dipping in a secluded backyard swimming pool, and rigged a webcam to get a picture. In the Eighties, this would be a silly topless subplot in “Porky’s” or any number of zany teenage sex comedies, but nowadays it’s a serious crime. If you’re that girl’s parents, it’s a lot more than a harmless prank, to be sure. But the girl was six months short of eighteen, (the boy was eighteen), and he took his laptop to college with him in the fall.

    Creating and transporting child pornography across state lines.

    And here McCarthy steps in and says, no, he wouldn’t let the kid of scot free, but prosecuting to this exaggerated, frightening degree isn’t just, and doesn’t show much common sense. To be sure, taking discretion out of prosecutors’ hands was done for a reason. McCarthy’s obvious point was there are times when all-or-nothing is grossly unfair.

    • #20
  21. Autistic License Thatcher
    Autistic License
    @AutisticLicense

    Prolonged probation / parole reporting is sufficient for protecting the public in cases like this.  For a first offender, this kind of pillory stuff can’t do any good.  Why not reserve that treatment for habituals?  There’s no shortage of them.  (After all, even twice exceeds probability.  Twice is not a mistake.)  Right now, the first offender statutory defendant has no “right answer,” nothing he can do to redeem himself.

    There’s no point to blaming the girl.  The whole premise is that she’s a child without adult responsibility.  That’s why the boy’s being prosecuted.

    • #21
  22. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Charlotte:Diane Rehm (I know, I know) had a very interesting and reasonably balanced show on this topic this morning.

    Are there registries for other types of violent crime? If not, why not? If so, are the residency and employment restrictions similar to those imposed on sex offenders? Why is a convicted sex offender considered to be more dangerous to society upon his release than someone convicted of armed robbery or aggravated assault?

    I’ve wondered that myself. The whole idea seems very strange.

    • #22
  23. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Mendel: Last time I checked, we don’t have an epidemic in America of 19-year-olds whose lives are ruined for having consensual sex with 17-year-olds (and there is no doubt this type of sexual relationship occurs hundreds, if not thousands, of times per day in America). Is it a sad story? Yes. Is it really a problem in the US? I’m not convinced.

    I grant it’s a very small proportion, but it does happen.

    If we’re going to have sex offender registries — something I’m ambivalent about and need more information on in order to form a firm decision — it seems they should be restricted to actual predators.

    That should be a relatively easy fix, a matter of restricting which crimes qualify for the registry.

    • #23
  24. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: That should be a relatively easy fix, a matter of restricting which crimes qualify for the registry.

    This would require many more laws. As it is now (at least in Washington State) there are only a handful of criminal statutes under which many varying levels of behavior may fall. Most of the difference between the statutes is the age of the victim. If a person cops a feel in passing he’d be charged the same as if he cornered and forcibly fondled a person. The illegal behavior is simply making physical contact for sexual pleasure. The law does not discriminate based on the severity of the contact or how the overall crime affects the victim. The legal outcome is the same for both actions, including being branded (Biden’s literally) a monster for all time. In this case, if you removed this particular law from the list then it would help an idiot who did a stupid thing, but it would also help a monster capable of monstrosities.

    If we must have such registries, perhaps putting them in the hands of the judge or jury who convicts would be a suitable method of enacting them. That way those who know the facts the best make the call, and when a sex offender pops up in a neighborhood the neighbors know with more certainty what he/she really is.

    • #24
  25. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I know I’m late to this party, but the “system” for dealing with sex crimes that are not forcibly induced are nuts, and the sex offender registry consequences are really idiotic. Prosecutors have incentive to be particularly abusive toward the accused, as it gets them “tough on sex offenders” headlines. The sex offender registries are indiscriminate in whether they really prevent the type of issue for which the person got placed on the registry.

    The husband of a coworker got caught up in the system with an over-zealous prosecutor. Virtually everyone who heard the facts thought the incident showed poor judgment, but was not criminal.  But, the prosecutor was aided by the fact that the husband has a heightened sense of morality that caused him to say things in the immediate aftermath that the prosecutor could use as admissions of guilt. He holds himself to a higher-than-normal standard, and he failed that, and his statements that he didn’t live up to his standards were used as admissions that he failed to live up to minimal standards. Then, by being placed on the registry, he was effectively excluded from the lives of his sons, including at public events, even though the incident that got him on the list had showed no inclination that he might do anything at a public event.

    • #25
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