14-year-old faces lifetime branding as a sex offender because he had sex with 12-year-old girlfriend
A 14-year-old middle schooler could be forced to register for life as a sex offender for consensual sex with his girlfriend, who is two years younger.
The seventh-grader was charged with aggravated assault of a child, although Texas law carves out a “Romeo and Juliet” exception for juvenile offenders and victims, reported the Houston Chronicle.
However, the law doesn’t apply if one of the parties is younger than 14 years old.
“The idea that a 14-year-old who has sex with a person just a little bit younger than him or her would be treated as the worst of the worst in our society and placed on the sex offender registry is really sick,” said the boy’s attorney, Joseph Gutheinz.
“If he has sex with someone who is younger by just days but is still 13 years old, he could be charged with one of the most serious offenses we have,” the lawyer said. “It just blows my mind.”
If convicted, the teen could face a prison term and will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
“He had consensual sex with his little girlfriend and he loved her,” the boy’s mother said. “They were boyfriend-girlfriend, and because he turned 14 (two months ago), they want to make him a sex offender, put him on the registry with pedophiles and child molesters — really sick and dangerous people.”
An attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which is working to raise the age of criminal responsibility, said prosecution varies widely because of age.
“That’s the arbitrary nature of our sexual offense laws,” said the attorney, Jay Jenkins. “There’s very little rationality to those laws.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office did not reply to requests for comment on the case, but attorneys said the circumstances aren’t unusual there.
“I had that exact fact pattern that I fought for a year,” said Jackie Stewart Gravois, an attorney with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. “They ended up dismissing it because, ultimately, everyone agreed it was a consensual act.”
Gravois said her case involved two children who were also 14 and 12, and prosecutors agreed to drop the charges after they were assured no violence or threats were involved.
But she said juvenile judges are given wide discretion in those cases, and the teen could be required to attend sex offender treatment before a decision is made about imposing sex offender registration.