I learned many years ago never to reject a gift given by a prosecutor. So yesterday, after a jury was selected and we were about to begin evidence in a statutory rape case, I tried to keep my mouth shut when the prosecution announced it was dropping the case against my client.
Yeah, that’s right. Dropping. As in no mandatory prison sentence, no felony conviction, no registration as a sex offender, no treatment as a sex offender as a condition of probation. My client walked out of the Danbury courtroom and into the arms of his family a free man. Period. No questions asked; no conditions imposed.
It was a good day in court.
The case was troubling to me. The complaining witness was fifteen years old at the time she claims she and my client, a young man of 22, were intimate. It was consensual, she said. There was never any doubt about that.
My client denies that there was sexual contact. The complaining witness was the friend of his younger sister. He did what older brothers the world over do, he tolerated his sister’s friend, a guest he did not invite into his home.
Thanks to the Christian Temperance Union’s lobbying in the late 19th century, every state in the nation has ages of consent that conflict with biological fact. (Thank the Industrial Revolution for this advocacy: as young women left the farms for factory jobs, lobbyists feared that young people would be preyed upon by elderly lechers in the big cities. The age of consent, which used to be around ten in most states, was increased as a means of protecting vulnerable young people from strangers. I doubt it was ever intended to criminalize experimenting neighbors riding hormonal roller coasters.) In Connecticut, no matter what lips and hormones may urge, a person is not legally capable of consenting to intercourse before the age of sixteen. Many are the criminals in robes, suits and ties wandering the courthouses of this nation.
By the twisted reasoning of our law, I am a victim of a predator. I was fifteen one steamy Summer long ago, and working at a summer camp, when a 19-year-old young woman showed my the world’s hidden rhythm. Far from regarding M, I recall her name still, and always shall recall it, as a predator, I thought her a goddess, and regarded myself as one of the luckiest young men alive. By today’s standards, M. should have been a felon, sentenced to prison, registered as a sex offender, and made to undergo treatment. All that for a roll beneath the stars one night? It’s madness; utter madness.
I am willing to bet that I am not alone in having been introduced to the wonder of it all a little earlier than the tidy sensibilities of lawmen think proper. And, in fairness to them, it was a powerful sort of experience, one for which I really was not ready. Intimacy breeds, or at least it should breed, powerful attachments, the sort from which commitments should grown. I was unprepared to honor commitments of those sorts at that age. Yes, an imperative more ancient than the rule of law drove me onward. And I was every bit as culpable as my partner in wanting what the law forbade. There was sorrow at the end of the Summer’s rainbow. I might have been wiser, more prudent, perhaps even better supervised. But let’s be real. No crime against the state or public order was committed that Summer.
I rant and rail against the state and its agents almost by reflex. I am a liberty-loving fool, quick to forget that the freedoms I cherish are made possible by minimal conditions of order maintained at great cost. But today, I woke up thinking that the prosecutor in yesterday’s case, Warren Murray, is a good man, alive to the responsibilities of his role and fired by a keen sense of justice. Yesterday could have played out differently. We might be in the midst of evidence today, and tomorrow, too, a young man’s life hanging in the balance. But we are not. And my client is grateful. And so am I.