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Let’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