Two years ago, the story of Zachary Anderson being sentenced to 25 years on the Sex Offender Registry sparked public controversy. He was put on the list because of Michigan’s statutory rape laws and because the girl with whom he’d had sex had lied about her age.
Anderson’s placement on the list, and sentence to jail time seemed like an unnecessarily harsh punishment for a teenager who wasn’t truly a danger to young girls as the sentence would make it seem.
What Is Statutory Rape?
Statutory rape is any sexual contact with a person under the age of 16, whether the act is consensual or not. Many people mistakenly assume that in order for it to be “rape,” it has to be coerced or forced and in this case, the term “statutory rape” is misleading.
The reason it is commonly referred to as “rape” is that – in the eyes of the law in Michigan – teenagers under the age of 16 – cannot legally consent to sexual activity, making their answer automatically no (even if the actual answer is an emphatic yes). To be clear, statutory rape is not the same as criminal sexual assault.
The other important aspect of statutory rape laws is that the age of consent is raised to 18 when the older party is an authority figure. However, (and very importantly) a sexual relationship between teachers and students OF ANY AGE is illegal.
Can a teenager be convicted of statutory rape?
The answer is obviously yes. As in Anderson’s case, even if the older party is a teen it may not keep him (or her) from being prosecuted and being found guilty. The girl lied and said she was 17 even though she was 14. Because of Michigan law, the fact that she’d lied was not able to be used in defense of Zachary Anderson.
There is some movement on this, however, as the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear mini oral arguments in the case, People v. Kilgo, that will determine whether mistake of age can be used in the defense. Because of the more widespread use of technology, it is very easy for teens to lie about their ages online, making these kinds of cases more and more prevalent.
What about Romeo and Juliet provisions?
There are provisions in Michigan sex offender laws known as Romeo and Juliet provisions which would keep someone from having to register as a sex offender if they meet the requirements. The requirements are as follows:
- A registered offender who had consensual sex with a victim at least 13 years old but less than 16 years old
- Who was not more than 4 years older than the victim at the time of the sexual contact
- Can petition the court for immediate removal from the registry
Zachary Anderson’s case didn’t fall within these provisions. In addition, the girl’s lie wasn’t an admissible defense. He is left to comply with the terms of being a registered sex offender for this while he fights what he and others feel is an unfair punishment.
Prosecutors don’t like to charge minors with statutory rape. However, it’s best to know what the laws are now and know your risks. This is particularly true in a time when pictures and videos are so easily transmittable and make this crime easier to prove.
Protect yourself by knowing the law and making sure you know the age of your partner or abstaining if you can’t feel sure. If you or a loved one is facing statutory rape charges, it is imperative that an experienced attorney be consulted. Please contact us today.
Let’s start fighting to protect your freedom