NY Times: Teenager’s Jailing Brings a Call to Fix Sex Offender Registries

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A recent New York Times article raises questions about whether sex offender registries really serve the public as intended or if they are merely tools to further political whims. Zachary Anderson did what many youth do in today’s technology driven culture: he met a girl online and had a one night stand. Unfortunately, however, she lied about her age. She was actually 14, which meant that not even Michigan’s Romeo and Juliet law would protect Zach from mandatory registration as a sex offender. Michigan has a five year age gap exemption for minors. Add in an unforgiving prosecutor and judge, both of whom frown upon the online hookup culture, and Zach has no chance at leniency. Prosecutor Vigansky lamented that this “generation seems to go online” and as Judge Wiley echoed “meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.”

While there may be no excuse for his behavior, hooking up via an adult dating site is not illegal. Instead of overreaching, the judge should have used objectivity. Zach’s case was not black and white. Instead a vindictive judge and an overzealous prosecutor decided to make an example of a first time offender.

In doing so, they further bloat an already teeming morass of registered individuals. You are left wondering who is really a danger without any way of knowing the truth. Worse yet there is no easy way to remedy registration. As Brenda Jones of Reform Sex Offender laws remarks, “when you actually try to introduce legislation, lawmakers start to get really nervous, because, oh, my God, we’re going to be soft on sex offenders.” The trouble is that the laws reflect this attitude, as Zach Anderson can attest.

Until one day in December, Zachery Anderson was a typical 19-year-old in a small Midwestern city.

He studied computer science at the local community college. He lived with his parents and two younger brothers in a sun-filled home on the St. Joseph River, where framed family photos hang from the walls and a pontoon boat is docked outside.

And he dated in the way that so many American teenagers do today: digitally and semi-anonymously, through apps where prospects emerge with the swipe of a finger and meetings are arranged after the exchanges of photos and texts.

In December, Mr. Anderson met a girl through Hot or Not, a dating app, and after some online flirting, he drove to pick her up at her house in Michigan, just miles over the state line. They had sex in a playground in Niles City, the police report said.

That sexual encounter has landed Mr. Anderson in a Michigan jail, and he now faces a lifetime entanglement in the legal system. The girl, who by her own account told Mr. Anderson that she was 17 — a year over the age of consent in Michigan — was actually 14. (continue reading)

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