Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Romeo and Juliet, or Sex Offender Registry?
March 3, 2011 5:57 AM   Subscribe

An Illinois 'Romeo and Juliet' law would take young sex offenders off of the registry.

"Shane Sandborg has gone from convict, to loving husband and father, to test case.

At age 17, the East Moline man fell in love with a young woman named Kristina, who was fourteen months younger than he. They had a consensual sexual relationship, Shane asked the woman to marry him, and she became pregnant. But when police came around investigating a burglary and found out about their relationship, they charged Shane with criminal sexual abuse."

Married with 3 kids, Shane can't take his kids to the park because he is on the registry.

Illinois is moving towards protecting "Romeo and Juliet" lovers.

What is the history of statutory rape laws in the U.S.?

The feminist response to statutory rape laws? Homophobia in previous applications.
posted by anya32 (50 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank god, this nonsense has been getting way out of hand.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:12 AM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


When did the common sense test fall out of favor with the universe?
posted by fusinski at 6:13 AM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


but the problem here really isn't the sex offender law, but the cops and judge who did this in the first place. the abuse of the sex offender law is just a symptom of a legal system which is failing.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:14 AM on March 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


WQAD appears not to have an editor that is familiar with punctuation.
posted by clorox at 6:17 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]



but the problem here really isn't the sex offender law, but the cops and judge who did this in the first place.


I disagree. There was a local case, very similar (though no pregnancy). Everyone involved agreed that there was no coercion, etc, but because of the law the boy is now serving a 15 year sentence in the big house. So these laws need to become more nuanced, to capture the difference between two teenagers humping for fun, and someone older being predatory with someone much younger.
posted by Forktine at 6:19 AM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


They had a consensual sexual relationship, Shane asked the woman to marry him, and she became pregnant.

I'd be very surprised to learn that events actually transpired in this order. But nevertheless, good on Illinois for displaying a measure of common sense and decency.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:20 AM on March 3, 2011


Race is a huge factor in these cases as well.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:20 AM on March 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


just to reiterate: for every 'romeo' case where we can all point and say, "that's fucked up," there are a thousand non-sexual cases where prosecutors, judges, and cops "abuse" laws to put people away for minor offenses... and the drug war is just a subset of this.

in fact, you could say that, in an adversarial legal system, this sort of thing is a feature not a bug if certain classes of people get insufficient legal representation. but, if every petty criminal had a good lawyer, IMHO, the system wouldn't work at all. remember that this case started with burglary.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:21 AM on March 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


but the problem here really isn't the sex offender law, but the cops and judge who did this in the first place.

just to reiterate: for every 'romeo' case where we can all point and say, "that's fucked up," there are a thousand non-sexual cases where prosecutors, judges, and cops "abuse" laws to put people away for minor offenses

On your first point, the law is the law and, whether they agree with it or not, judges and police officers are sworn to uphold it. On your second point, wouldn't the opportunity for legal "abuse" be more of a reason to scrub the books of this offense?
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:25 AM on March 3, 2011


If the law is written in such a way that there can be no investigative or prosecutorial discretion, then it's a bad law, and when the powers that be can use discretion and do so in an abusive way, it's still a bad law. Either way, shit like this should be off the books.
posted by rtha at 6:26 AM on March 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


There was a local case, very similar (though no pregnancy). Everyone involved agreed that there was no coercion, etc, but because of the law the boy is now serving a 15 year sentence in the big house.

it's hard to argue without specifics but, this case started with burglary: why were the cops interviewing a teenage burglary suspect about his teenage girlfriend? If the cops didn't have discretion then every juvenile drug case could involve the sex offender law... and there sure are a lot of those....
posted by ennui.bz at 6:29 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and yet Hugh Hefner's new bride-to-be is 60 years younger than him...
posted by adso at 6:30 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everyone involved agreed that there was no coercion, etc, but because of the law the boy is now serving a 15 year sentence

If everyone was in agreement, who made the decision to press charges?
posted by Gator at 6:34 AM on March 3, 2011


I wonder if the statutory rape was part of the "let's throw a whole bunch of charges at this guy and hope one of them sticks" tactic that seems to be unfortunately common.
posted by electroboy at 6:36 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


On your first point, the law is the law

Actually in the US prosecutors have nearly unlimited discretion in disposing of cases. Police have a great deal of discretionary power as well, often not choosing to make a filing out of something they don't want to.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:36 AM on March 3, 2011


...and yet Hugh Hefner's new bride-to-be is 60 years younger than him...

"What first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?"
posted by jaduncan at 6:38 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that it matters, but there are two names in that article, the name of the girl he got pregnant that he asked to marry him, and a different name of the woman he is married to now that he had kids with, he didn't actually marry the girl in question.
posted by floam at 6:44 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that it matters, but there are two names in that article, the name of the girl he got pregnant that he asked to marry him, and a different name of the woman he is married to now that he had kids with, he didn't actually marry the girl in question.

two of the links reference him marrying his teenage girlfriend and i doubt this would be on local tv if he hadn't... i'm going to guess that 'kristina' is the victim/teen-bride and 'jadie' is their daughter.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:51 AM on March 3, 2011


America is crazy about sex offenders. It's bizarre. Even the Economist (!) thinks these laws are ridiculous
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 6:57 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, this "Romeo and Juliet law" is a good start, but when are we finally going to tackle the problem of friars pushing their fake-your-own-death potions on our children?
posted by PlusDistance at 6:59 AM on March 3, 2011 [26 favorites]



If everyone was in agreement, who made the decision to press charges?


The prosecutor, I assume? Because even though there was the common-sense reaction of "oh, hey, looks consensual, yup," it was also a clear violation of the law as it currently stands and the boy was foolish enough (and young enough) to admit to the sex in front of the police. Maybe with a different judge or a different set of lawyers, it could have become a test case like in the FPP and the law could have changed. Or a different prosecutor or police force would have just shrugged and filed it away, I don't know.

Instead, a scared kid took a plea bargain and is sitting in the pen for a long, long time, and although I don't know the numbers, I suspect that there are more than a few others like him around the country.

The laws have good intentions overall, but aren't working well for a certain set of fringe cases (consensual teen sex) that maybe isn't great, but also shouldn't be punished with decades-long prison sentences and lifetime registry on the sex offender lists.
posted by Forktine at 7:03 AM on March 3, 2011


America is crazy about sex offenders. It's bizarre.

Americans have long had this illogical, moralistic stripe, where they expect everyone to live-up to some unobtainable, moral perfection. And, in turn, they insist upon fairly draconian punishment for anyone who gets caught not living this shining perfection. Sex offenses are simply one of the easier areas to enact harsh penalties, since no one wants to be seen as defending immoral activity. If you pay close attention, you will often see groups competing against each other to see who can enact the harshest penalties. It's like a badge of honor to them, to see how inflexible and harsh they can be.

Americans can be some of the most brutally spiteful people, at times.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:14 AM on March 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


Thorzdad: Americans can be some of the most brutally spiteful people, at times.

It's very strange to people in Europe to see quite how democratic (!) America's justice system is compared to our own much more bureaucratised (and we feel more civilised) systems.

It's also strange that this populist rage is allowed to operate virtually without restraint against social pariahs like sex offenders but not on the investment bankers whose reckless fraud and Ponzi schemes brought on this recession.

(I blogged on this puzzle recently: Is America a civilised country?)
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like how we pretend this is for our safety or our kids safety or whatever but we don't have a registry for people convicted of manslaughter, we don't have a registry for peope convicted of assault, or arsonists, or murderers. It's really weird that, as a society, what we've went with as an answer to the question "when should we be alerted to a released criminal's location?"is "when his crime involved genitals". Me, I might have went with "when the crime is unusually serious or when it is especially prone to recidivism" or maybe "the criminal having served her sentence should not be subject to additional penalties".
posted by I Foody at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2011 [15 favorites]


The prosecutor, I assume?

Well, then not everyone was in agreement, and it's not the law itself that's bad as you originally suggested, but the discretion of those in power to pursue charges even where it may not be in the best interests of all parties. I would also tend to suspect that the girl's parents may have kicked up a fuss in situations like these, but who knows.
posted by Gator at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2011


It's also strange that this populist rage is allowed to operate virtually without restraint against social pariahs like sex offenders but not on the investment bankers whose reckless fraud and Ponzi schemes brought on this recession.

Americans are taught from birth to honor the money-handlers as great men who have attained the highest and most noble of goals that you can reach in our capitalist system. Plus, all that money stuff is just way too complex and confusing for us to try to understand. But kiddie-diddlers! We KNOW that's wrong!
posted by Thorzdad at 7:42 AM on March 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


So, in essence, this law says, "If the statutory rape is mutual, then we won't charge anyone for it"?
posted by Night_owl at 7:43 AM on March 3, 2011


America is crazy about sex offenders. It's bizarre. Even the Economist (!) thinks these laws are ridiculous

Yes, and England has a sober, level-headed approach to issues such as these.
posted by electroboy at 7:46 AM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


On your first point, the law is the law and, whether they agree with it or not, judges and police officers are sworn to uphold it.

Yet every day, cops fail to pull people over when they witness them speeding or the light turns red in the intersection as they drive through. Police use discretion in many ways, some good and some not so good.
posted by tommasz at 8:03 AM on March 3, 2011


I think there is a sort of ratcheting effect at work in the USA with criminal law. Politicians need to demonstrate that they're "tough on crime," so whenever there's some major outrage or even minor inconvenience, someone will propose a law in response, and few dare vote against it.

Combine that with any "think of the children!" hysteria, and you get our currently overreaching set of sex-offender laws. I'm pretty sure a drunk pissing against a building can be prosecuted as a sex offender. When one kid sends a racy pic of him/herself to another kid by cellphone, they can both be sex offenders (I predict this will be a huge problem in the next few years).

Also: the Economist is not a bunch of bluenoses when it comes to sex. They've been advocating for gay marriage since '94, I think.
posted by adamrice at 8:06 AM on March 3, 2011


Sex is evil, right? But killing is cool.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:20 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


since no one wants to be seen as defending immoral activity.

I'll defend the shit out of immoral activities! Many immoral activities are AWESOME. Next time you're going to have pre-marital sex, do it while HIGH. That is known as an Awesome Force Multiplier. If you have the opportunity to fire an unlicensed handgun in the air WHILE having the high sexes, my advice is - do NOT pass that chance up.

Immoral Activities - as American as Having Sex with an Apple Pie!
posted by FatherDagon at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


The sponsor who introduced the legislation is my state representative. Rep. Robert Pritchard (R).

These registries are a tricky subject. We need to be very careful about making lists of undesirables. We just need to be very careful.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:39 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


we don't have a registry for people convicted of manslaughter, we don't have a registry for peope convicted of assault, or arsonists, or murderers.

I would wager that this has to do with the rates of recidivism in each of these cases (that, and the fact that people convicted of murder are most likely in jail, so there's no need to have them on a registry as well because...well, they're not out in public, they're in jail).

I agree this does not make it hunky-dory as it is. But that is probably what the roots of the situation are (i.e., that it's statistically much more likely for a sex offender to repeat hir offense than it is for someone convicted of assault).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on March 3, 2011


Recidivism rates for sex offenders are actually lower than those of non-sex offenders (43% vs. 68%, re-arrest for any crime). Re-arrest for another sex crime is much lower at around 5%.
posted by electroboy at 9:13 AM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Registry for all crimes, or for none. As it is, sex-offense-only registration seems . . . unusual.
posted by yesster at 9:18 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most of the people caught up on America's sex offender lists have never done anything particularly offensive in the first place so recidivism is irrelevant. Teenagers sexting each other are on it, as are men who visit prostitutes (in some states).

Around 700,000 Americans are on these lists and stuck with various sanctions to normal life, employment, mobility, and housing as well as social disgust and fear of vigilanteism. In some states exclusion zones around 'areas where children congregate' mean there are colonies of ex-cons living in camps in the woods and under bridges. That's a disgraceful treatment of people. But I also don't see how it protects children - don't paedophiles know how to catch a bus?

Recidivism rates are only important to this argument once one focuses on the people who did significant crimes in the first place, the ones that motivated all this moral outrage and fear in the first place. Once you do that it looks like a massive distraction of state and police resources to be monitoring all those other harmless types so assiduously.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 9:18 AM on March 3, 2011


I stand corrected on the recidivism issue. My bad.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on March 3, 2011


The local news aired a segment last night: "How Your Bumperstickers Can Make You a Target For Child Predators". The premise being that an honor roll bumpersticker lets people know you have children.
posted by electroboy at 10:35 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"If everyone was in agreement, who made the decision to press charges?"

In Illinois, coercion is NOT an element of criminal sexual abuse of a minor. It can be entirely consensual, but if either party is under the age of consent (17), a crime has been committed. A felony in some cases, a misdemeanor in others, but a crime that lends you on the registry.

We have been watching an acquaintance's family go through this; the girl actually initiated the sexual relationship. She is some months younger than the boy. The minute he hit 17 and it became a more serious crime (I want to say a felony but I'm not positive if that's the case), her parents decided to go to the prosecutor. (They looked the other way for months before that, when it was a misdemeanor.) He wants to be a teacher. If he is charged and convicted, he will never be able to teach.

Hard to convince a 16-year-old boy thinking with his penis about his first true love (who initiated the sex!) that having sex could land him in prison and ruin his entire future. Currently the boy's family's only leverage is that they can have the GIRL charged with misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse, for having sex with their son when he was also below the age of consent.

It is way fucked up.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:40 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I want to advise clients in these cases is to just run. The system will start taking blood out of you, and for your entire life you will never be free of it. You won't be able to freely choose where to live, you won't be able to get a job, and you won't be allowed to have a normal family life. Just run - because our system is obsessed with punishing you forever, and doesn't care that no one was hurt and no moral outrage was committed.

But I'm not allowed to do that.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


but the problem here really isn't the sex offender law, but the cops and judge who did this in the first place.
No, the job of the judge and cops is to apply the law. The laws should make sense. If we decide to just make everything illegal by default and allow judges to have 'discretion' then all you're going to end up with is arbitrary and capricious behavior -- like this. What good does it do to 'place blame' on the judges in this case? They get to keep judging.

The laws should be written to be fair in the first place.
in fact, you could say that, in an adversarial legal system, this sort of thing is a feature not a bug if certain classes of people get insufficient legal representation. but, if every petty criminal had a good lawyer, IMHO, the system wouldn't work at all. remember that this case started with burglary.
What the hell are you talking about? You think it's a good thing that the police can randomly throw people in prison on trumped up charges, which they can't defend themselves against because they think they might be guilty on something else but can't prove it or even find enough evidence to press charges? For all we know from the article this kid was the one who was robbed, or just a neighbor or something. But if he was a suspect, so what? Maybe there isn't enough evidence to charge him because he didn't fucking do it.
posted by delmoi at 12:23 PM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


from the Economist link: "She was arrested and charged with sodomy, which in Georgia can refer to oral sex."

er, you're doing it wrong.
posted by marienbad at 12:28 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


also, just to add, i believe some european countries have romeo/juliet laws, for eg Germany
posted by marienbad at 12:31 PM on March 3, 2011


"Yes, and England has a sober, level-headed approach to issues such as these."

that was in wales mate, not england
posted by marienbad at 12:33 PM on March 3, 2011


Ah right, my mistake. I had originally intended to write the UK.
posted by electroboy at 12:56 PM on March 3, 2011


it's not the law itself that's bad as you originally suggested, but the discretion of those in power to pursue charges even where it may not be in the best interests of all parties

And how do we determine what is in the best interests of all parties? A magic 8-ball, perhaps?

Of course the problem is with the law, that's what we call the collection of rules about what people may or may not do and what procedures should be followed when someone appears to be breaking one of these rules. We make these formal rules because people frequently disagree about issues of right and wrong. Otherwise we could just have one law consisting of 'do the right thing' and save ourselves the trouble of having any kind of system at all.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:06 PM on March 3, 2011


but the discretion of those in power to pursue charges even where it may not be in the best interests of all parties

I wonder if the decision to purse charges comes down to the fact the failure to do so would give a future political opponent ammunition against them. "X turns a blind eye to child rape..."
posted by the_artificer at 3:19 PM on March 3, 2011


electroboy writes "The local news aired a segment last night: 'How Your Bumperstickers Can Make You a Target For Child Predators'. The premise being that an honor roll bumpersticker lets people know you have children."

Like there is any other reason someone would drive a minivan.

marienbad writes "from the Economist link: 'She was arrested and charged with sodomy, which in Georgia can refer to oral sex.'

"er, you're doing it wrong."


This is a very common legal definition of sodomy.
posted by Mitheral at 3:34 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ya know, I was just in a sort of focus group meeting with a bunch of sex offenders in Illinois last weekend. They were all preparing to give testimony before hearings, tribunals, the press, etc, and they wanted a group of people to listen to them say their piece, and then give them some feedback on how they came across. Most of the testimony was about three things: 1) how they were punished before even being convicted through inhumane treatment and often brutality; 2) after conviction, how judicial and correctional personnel actively and openly strived to inflict more damage on their lives than the punishment meted out during trial; and 3) after returning to "real life," the Kafkaesque maze of restrictions that often made it impossible to live in any neighborhood in Chicago or go anywhere in public. There are some potential advantages to a sex offender registry for violent and repetitive sex offenders, but right now most states throw anybody who ever did a bad thing involving sex into the same category as psychopathic rape-and-butcher offenders and this creates both a) a registry that is so large that tracking/monitoring becomes impossible, and b) a set of overzealous laws that treat everyone as if they were the most dangerous sort of sexual predator. As an example of the latter point, a sex offender who was classified as such due to sexual assault on an adult still can't be within 500 feet of children, despite having no sexual interest in them.

The most memorable thing I heard from these testimonies last weekend was by one guy, whose parole officer told him—openly and to his face—that she hates sex offenders and will do her best to trick him into violating his parole and going back to jail.

Interestingly enough, *none* of the male S.O.s that did jail time talked about the sexual violence directed at them in jail. A significant proportion of most a prison population has experienced sexual abuse as a child, and so dubbing a prisoner a "child molester" almost always leads to brutal treatment in jail.
posted by LMGM at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


« Older Passage of the International Space Station and Dis...  |  The Brilliant Line explores th... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments