A man who was convicted of sexual assault for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend when he was 17 faces a year in jail for living too close to a school — even though he says police told him the location was acceptable.
By many people’s standards, Matthew Freeman shouldn’t even be on a sex offenders’ registry for having sex with his girlfriend, two years his junior, when they were teenagers. But because the age of consent in Michigan is 16 and there is no exemption for teenagers who are close in age, Freeman was convicted and placed on the sex offenders’ registry for 10 years.
A report at AnnArbor.com states that Freeman was stopped by a police officer while the now-23-year-old man was shooting hoops in his mother’s front yard, where he lives. The officer measured the distance from Freeman’s home to a school across the street, and found it to be 326 feet — less than the 1,000-foot distance that sex offenders are required to keep from schools in Michigan.
But Freeman told AnnArbor.com that the police force where he lives, Pittsfield Township, had earlier told him that the location of his home was acceptable.
Freeman told the trooper Pittsfield Township police told him “it shouldn’t be a problem” to live near the school. He had registered with Pittsfield police 27 days earlier using his family’s Dalton Avenue address.
The trooper aimed a laser gun at the school building and determined Freeman was living 326 feet away, the report said, breaking the law.
Freeman, 23, is charged with a school safety zone residency violation, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. He was arraigned Dec. 4 and is scheduled to return to court Friday.
Freeman says he was initially convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault — the least serious sex crime on Michigan’s books — because his girlfriend’s mother got upset at him and called the police.
For some political activists in the state, Freeman’s case is a perfect example of what has gone wrong with Michigan’s attempts to monitor dangerous sex offenders. A group called Coalition for a Useful Registry is pushing the state to overhaul its sex offender registry, noting that Michigan has the highest rate of registry inclusion of any state in the US. The Michigan Messenger reports:
Coalition members are united in the view that Michigan has too many people on the sex offender registry who, they argue, aren’t a threat to anyone and don’t merit the stigma of extended punishment on the registry.
With over 45,100 names and faces on the registry of convicted sex offenders –- and even some whose records are conviction-free –- Michigan holds the eyebrow-raising distinction of having the highest ratio of its citizens on a state sex offender registry.
According to an analysis earlier this year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, for every 100,000 Michiganders, 472 are on the registry. That’s more than California (319), Florida (281), New York (148) or Illinois (158) – or any state.
“We’re trying to put a face on this,” said Lynn D’Orio, a defense attorney and member of the advisory board. “That’s why the coalition exists.”
In a sign of how broad the Michigan sex offender registry is, the Michigan Messenger noted this week that two members of the state legislature have relatives on the list.
Writing at the Daily Dish blog, Conor Friedersdorf suggests that overly broad sex offender registries could actually backfire by diluting their significance.
“You’d think that even folks whose only concern is stopping sexual predators would see that putting men like Matthew Freeman on [sex offender registries] undermines their usefulness, both by spending finite criminal justice resources on people who don’t present a threat to anyone, and by sending a far weaker signal than we’d have if predator lists were restricted to actual child molesters and rapists,” he writes.
Members of the Coalition for a Useful Registry now point to some “victories” in their battle to reform state law. Last month, in what the Muskegon Chronicle described as a “precedent-setting decision,” an appeals court removed a man from the sex offender registry, calling his inclusion “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The man in question, Robert Lee Dipiazza, was convicted of having sex with his then-14-year-old girlfriend when he was 18 years old. Dipiazza has since married the girl.
The following video was broadcast on Fox Channel 2 Detroit, December 15, 2009.