While sex offender laws and sex offender registration requirements are intended to protect the public safety, they often do more harm than good. Just like any "zero tolerance policy," treating an issue as black-and-white, with no room for infinite shades of gray, sex offender laws often unnecessarily punish people against the interest of justice. One such case is that of Zach Anderson, who was convicted of misdemeanor sexual conduct and required to register as a sex offender for 25 years after he had sex with a 14-year-old girl who lied about her age.
Last month, the courts threw out Anderson's sentence, and now, he has received a much more lenient sentence.
Charges of Statutory Rape
The case began when Anderson was 19 years old. While perusing a dating app "Hot or Not," he met a girl who claimed to be 17 years old. Anderson lived only a few miles across the state line from the girl, and he went to pick her up. The two went to a local park, where they had sex. Anderson then took the girl home.
But the younger teen had not told her mother where she was going, and when the mother realized her daughter was gone longer than expected, she called police.
Only after the girl texted Anderson later, saying that they were "in trouble," did she admit that she was 14.
Anderson, who thought he was having a consensual sexual encounter with a girl old enough to give that consent, was charged as a sex offender.
Despite the girl and her mother asking the judge for leniency, the judge handed down a harsh sentence, saying that Anderson should have been able to tell that the girl was younger than 17. He was sentenced to 5 years of probation, 25 years as a registered sex offender, and prohibition from using a computer. For the now 20-year-old computer major, the computer restriction completely changed his educational plans. One of the most hurtful parts of his sentence is that he was required to move out of his family's home because he was not allowed to live in the same house as his 15-year-old brother.
A Case Where the Law Worked
Fortunately, the sentence was thrown out, and Anderson has been given a much more lenient sentence. Instead of 5 years of probation, he will serve only 2; most importantly, he will not be required to register as a sex offender. He is allowed to move back home, and he can use a computer for school projects.
Still, it seems unfair that he is criminally prosecuted and punished for having sex with someone who lied about her age. But statutory rape is a per se offense. This means that sex with a minor under 16 in Oklahoma is strictly prohibited by an adult aged 18 or older. It doesn't matter if the minor said he or she was of legal age. It does not matter if he or she is not only willing, but the one who initiates contact. It does not even matter if the minor produces a fake ID showing him or her to be past the age of legal consent. If sex with a minor occurs, a crime occurs, regardless of mitigating circumstances. "But she said she was 18," is not an affirmative defense in Oklahoma.
This is just one of the many reasons why it is imperative that a person questioned about a sexual relationship refuses to discuss the matter without an attorney present. What a person says to "clear up" a misunderstanding can be just the evidence police need to make an arrest and the confession prosecutors need to get a conviction.
Sex crime laws are tough, and there is often little wiggle room for mitigating circumstances. If you or someone you love has been accused of a sex offense, call a sex crimes defense lawyer at once. For more information on Oklahoma's age of consent laws click here.