Zach Anderson from Indiana is the latest example of how sex offender registries have been diluted with people who aren’t sexual predators and don’t actually pose a threat to society.
Last December, 19-year-old Anderson went on an an adult dating app called “Hot or Not” and met a girl who told him she was 17 years old. Anderson crossed state lines to Michigan and the two met up at a playground shortly after their online exchange and had sex. Everything seemed fine until he was greeted by police soon after.
Anderson learned the girl had lied to him about her age, and she was really 14 years old. Anderson was prosecuted for statutory rape, and pleaded guilty with the hope that his clean record would result in leniency by Judge Dennis Wiley. Even though Anderson qualified for the Holmes Youthful trainee Act (HYTA), which would allow him to serve a “youthful trainee probationary term” the judge wasn’t too interested in being lenient.
Even after the girl and her mother both testified that she had lied about her age and that they didn’t consider Anderson a sexual predator, Judge Wiley still sentenced him to three months in Berrien County jail, 25 years on Michigan’s sex offender registry, and five years of probation.
Since Anderson’s brother is a 15-year-old, he can no longer live with his parents. He is also forbidden from using computers or smartphones for the rest of his life. Anderson and his family are fighting to get Judge Wiley to agree to re-sentencing him, but so far Wiley has deferred the case to consider other judicial precedent.
Records from court proceedings indicate that Judge Wiley had a grudge against hook-up culture, and it seems as though he wanted to take his frustration out on Anderson.
“You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women to have sex with. That seems to be part of our culture now: meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior,” Wiley said.
Sex offender registries are supposed to list sexual predators who pose a genuine risk to those around them. Anderson doesn’t fit that description by any means, and to have his life destroyed based on the deception of someone else is absolutely outrageous. In some states, public urination is considered grounds to list someone on the registry.
At least 13 states require sex offender registration for public urination, according to Human Rights Watch’s comprehensive review of sex offender laws in 2007. Two of those states specify that the urination must happen in front of a minor.
Does it make sense to include people who relieve themselves in public on the same list as pedophiles and rapists? Is it productive to treat people like Anderson like an outcast for the rest of his life because of one mistake he made after he was lied to? The flaws of our justice system extend to these diluted lists of so-called predators. The real predator in this story is the Judge who decided that his bitterness toward people getting laid warranted a harsh sentence for a teenager.