The offender is now labeled as a child predator for the next twenty-five years.
I hate sexual immorality. I hate hookup culture. I would be in favor of a country where there were laws prohibiting fornication and adultery. (Yes, I’m really not a Libertarian).
But as you know, we don’t live in that country right now and a single judge doesn’t have the power to change that fact. If this story in the South Bend Tribune is at all accurate, the judge is making sexual morality look very ugly.
What happened, as all parties agree including the prosecutor and the girl’s parents, is that a nineteen-year-old male, Zachery Anderson, got online and came into contact with a person who presented herself as a seventeen-year-old single. They arranged a “date.” He picked her up, as planned, in front of her house. She had, according to her mother, arranged her hair “especially nice.”
A little while later, the parents of a fourteen-year-old daughter became worried later that evening about where their daughter was. She is an epileptic and needed to get her medicine in time. She had left without telling them where she was going. They had assumed she was nearby, even though she had made up her hair to be “especially nice” before leaving the house.
They called the police.
So the young man got prosecuted because the “seventeen-year-old” woman was actually the fourteen-year-old. She lied about her age.
The next time the teens would see each other was in a Niles courtroom, where Zach would ultimately be ordered to spend 90 days in the county jail, five years on probation and 25 years on Michigan’s sex offender registry. He would lose the work he’d completed toward a computer-related degree this semester and be forced to give up his field of study — and, as part of his sentence, even the use of a smartphone or being around anyone else with one.
A longtime Michigan law often applies in cases like Zach’s, calling for lenient sentences and, perhaps more importantly, allowing first-time offenders to avoid the sex offender registry. The victim and her mother even pleaded for leniency. But the judge in Zach’s case chose to not give the first offender a break, even after false information about the 19-year-old in a pre-sentence report was flagged. The judge’s sentence came with a lecture about the dangers of the Internet.
And, critics say, cases like Zach’s raise questions about sex-offender laws that are meant to protect the public but sometimes have unintended consequences.
As I said, I hate immorality. I think both these two young people have damaged themselves more than they know and they should repent. I think the guy is at fault for not actually checking ID (though she could have faked it). I’d feel the same way about the woman if the genders were reversed in this story.
And so I really don’t have much of a problem with the ninety-day sentence. Let people know that they had better be sure that the other “consenting adult” is really who he or she claims to be.
But this boy is not a pedophile or child predator in the “mental” sense of that term. He does not have a disposition to seduce children. He isn’t seeking out minors. He shows no history of seeking them out intentionally. A ninety-day sentence would easily be enough to teach him to never let such an incident happen again. A quarter-century on the sex offenders’ list serves no purpose but to lie about him and hurt him for a crime he didn’t ever mean to commit. Also, making him lose his college major is insane. There is no reason in the world to think that such a punishment would do anything to make him less likely to commit crimes in the future.
This over-the-top punishment makes the message the judge preached from the bench an object of hatred.
“The Internet’s wonderful, thank you, Al Gore. But it also is a danger,” Wiley told Anderson, according to the recording of the sentencing. “You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women to meet and have sex with. That seems to be part of our culture now: meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this, whatsoever.”
Then the judge, despite having thrown out the earlier pre-sentence report, read his sentencing conditions, which appeared to be the same as those recommended by the pre-sentence investigator.
Despite Gardiner’s appeal, Wiley refused to reconsider the ban on computer usage. Anderson was two weeks away from finals for his semester’s classwork at Ivy Tech, but the judge ordered him to serve his 90 days immediately.
As deputies escorted Anderson out of the courtroom, the girl wiped tears from her eyes, and her mother gasped and was so overcome with emotion she left the courtroom.
You don’t win the culture war by exerting arbitrary authority. This was a miscarriage of justice. If there was a way to remove Gardiner from office, and I lived in the area, I would be pursuing such redress.
Again, I have no sympathy for the acts committed by the man or, secondarily, by the young girl. But the sentence is still wrong.
Fortunately, the young man has a good case for an appeal.