Around the country, and for good reason, there are laws barring individuals above a certain age from engaging in sexual relations with individuals below a certain age (the age of consent.
In Florida, according to State Statute s. 794.05, it is illegal for someone 24 years of age or older to have sex, as defined in the statute, with someone under the age of 18 (with a couple of exceptions). Based on the exact circumstances of the incident, the crime can be considered a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines.
As our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know, however, these sex offender laws and associated sex offender registries do present serious problems. In today’s world of anonymous dating apps and online match-making, confusion is rampant and thus the likelihood of inadvertently committing a sex crime is higher than it used to be.
While many have been railing against the black-and-white nature of sex offender laws and registries for years, the recent jailing of a teenager from Indiana has renewed calls for officials to take another look at these laws and the implications of labeling someone a “Sex Offender.”
Here’s what happened: a 19-year-old teenager from Indiana met someone on an online dating (hook-up) app called Hot or Not and drove to her house in Michigan, just across the state line, where he picked her up. The two went on to have sex in a playground (probably not the wisest choice). But here’s where the law comes into play: the girl with whom the Indiana teen had sex was actually 14 years old, but she had told the 19-year-old that she was 17 (one year over the age of consent in Michigan, where the alleged crime took place).
Apparently, as our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers have learned, the teenage girl’s mother had contacted authorities when she couldn’t find the girl and was worried that she would miss her epilepsy medication dosage. The 19-year-old ended up turning himself in to police in February (the incident had taken place in December) and wound up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of criminal sexual conduct. Subsequently, he was sentenced to 3 months in prison, even though the girl and her mother had requested that the judge drop the charges against the 19-year-old.
In addition to his three-month jail sentence, the 19-year-old will have to remain on a sex offender registry for the next 25 years and, according to the terms of his probation, he will have to stay off the internet for five years. This seems incredibly problematic, and people are starting to wonder whether strict sex offender laws, in the midst of which this teenager has been caught, are truly fair. While our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers do not condone anyone breaking any laws, from this teenager’s perspective, he was just having sex with another teenager who was above the age of consent; he had no reason to believe that the girl would have lied about her age.
Now, because of the harsh law, he will be subject to (perhaps unjust) ridicule and condemnation due to his public record for the next quarter-century. In addition, despite his studies in computer science at a local community college, the 19-year-old will have to figure out some way to make money other than by utilizing the computer skills he’s developed. In the year 2015, preventing someone from using the internet critically limits their career options.
Our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that when stories like this one gain traction in the press, people start to revisit the laws as they are on the book; perhaps the facts of this case will inspire a change. If you have any questions about this or any other criminal issue, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward County and/or Miami-Dade County, please contact our criminal defense layers at Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to assisting you!