Saturday, August 01, 2015

ABC Nightline: teen will be listed as sex-offender after underage girl lies about age; Michigan does not reccognize lying by a minor as a defense

Friday night, ABC Nightline aired a disturbing report about a young man, Zack Anderson, 19, who, according to a sentence from a Michigan court currently in effect, could, after serving about 75 days in a Michigan jail, spend 25 years on a sex-offender registry and five years under strictly supervised probation where he honors curfews and is not allowed Internet access or to own a smart phone.

The incident started when the northern Indiana teen resident met a girl online with an online dating app “hot or not” (Google shows several of these).  The girl said she was 17.  (According to reports, she told Zack that when he asked directly online, and she had falsely registered as an adult on the site, violating TOS.) They met in southern Michigan (Niles) and had consensual sex.  It turns out the girl had lied and was 14.  The mother called police while she was out, thinking she was missing. Two months later, police came to Indiana and interviewed Zack and work, and he was soon charged with 4th degree assault.

He plead guilty to get the smallest sentence.  One big catch is that Michigan law doesn’t recognize an underage partner’s lying about age as an affirmative defense.  Apparently Indiana law would have.  But the terms of Zack’s probation are based on Michigan even though he lives in Indiana (under Full Faith and Credit).

The girl’s parents did not want to see Zack prosecuted and did not regard their daughter as a “victim”. But the judge seemed to want to set an example, and a Republican state legislator who crafted Michigan’s law said that he should have checked her driver’s license, like a bar would.  There is a school of thought that says that adults must look after minors even when minors lie and behave irresponsibly.

Zack’s parents are trying to get the sentenced reduced, but have spent much of their savings on legal fees, and have bought him a fix-up house in a part of town where he can leave legally.

Sex-offender registries in many states clearly are trapping people who as individuals do not pose a threat to others.  When is "sending a message" a justification for ugly, disproportionate consequences? 
Dr. Phil would have said that this episode shows that teenagers don’t see around corners or perceive hidden possible consequences of their behavior.  Zack probably would have presumed that asking her age verbally was enough, or would have trusted the website.  He would not have thought he had to take even more responsibility for others.  He would not have thought about different states’ laws.
Michigan has an age of consent of 16 with no “Romeo and Juliet law”.  Indiana also has 16, with a Romeo-and-Juliet exception (Wiki )   California, Virginia, Wisconsin and Arizona all have age as 18. 

One obvious question comes up:  if someone gets a fake-ID, and meets that underage person in a bar and has illegal sex, then is the person guilty?  Perhaps so in Michigan.  On several occasions I have seen people in bars who I knew was underage.  Fake-id’s seem to be common.  (An episode in the series “Everwood” was based on the issue, and the critical incident with Ephram and Madison near the end of the series would have been illegal in Colorado because the Ephram character was 16.)  I said nothing, but on one occasion, the person had been a student in a classroom where I had subbed.  He spoke to me, but I left immediately.   On one or two occasions I have accidentally seen conduct, from a distance, that might have been on the borderline of illegality but said nothing.

The official title of the Nightline episode was “The 19 Year Old Will Spend 25 Years on Sex Offender Registry”, in a series called “Firsts”.

The comments on the ABC site are interesting. Story link is here.

Picture: Marijuana sign in SE Michigan, 60 miles from Detroit, my trip, 2012.  

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