Romeo, Romeo, A Sex Offender? Or Merely Young?

The single most important criminal justice reform within reach in each statehouse is the elimination of mandatory minimum prison sentences and consequences. The ends of justice require it. Sound economics counsel it. Only anger and fear stand in the way of meaningful reform.Law students are taught, and judges still pretend, that a judgment of guilty and a criminal sentence should accomplish four purposes: deterrence of the individual who committed the crime, deterrence of others who might commit a similar crime, rehabilitation of the guilty and retribution. We teach that to practitioners of the law, but not to lawmakers. They are presumed to know these things.I say that lawmakers need re-education about the purposes of the criminal justice system. This is necessary because lawmakers increasingly resort to a one-size-fits-all mindset when it comes to mandating penalties for crimes. The fact of the matter is that offenders, and that includes sex offenders, are rarely identical. Justice requires a measured and calibrated response to the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.I have sat in judge's chambers and listened to private agonizing by both the judge and the prosecution. A young man who confessed to a Romeo and Juliet crime, falling in love with a young girl below the age of consent, but consenting nonetheless, must be sent to prison, convicted of a felony, be required to register as a sex offender, undergo treatment for sexual misconduct as a consequence of his inevitable probation. These four horsemen appear at the doorstep to the judge's chambers, but each horseman smirks: they know that some of the men and a few of the women in the room are guilty of doing just what the young man did, they just weren't caught. So the judge does his job, accepts the defendant's guilty plea, and sends him to prison. It is as inevitable as an assembly line.

A criminal offense, and the consequences of committing the offense, including prison and registration as a sex offender, are mandated by lawmakers. Yet these lawmakers are never required to meet the men and women sentenced, or to make any assessment of what risk, if any, they pose to society. In a legislative chamber, lawmakers strike out in the name of decency and innocence. Protecting children is their battle cry. Who would fail to rally to such a standard? The trouble is that these rallying cries often deafen those who want to listen to what justice requires.The crime of statutory rape has a history. Prior to the industrial revolution, the age of consent was low in many states, reaching to 10 years of age in some states. It was assumed that parents and local communities could police the conduct of young people learning to cope with newly emergent hormones. When young women began to flock to cities from their farms in search of factory work, young women were unsupervised in urban centers. The Women's Christian Temperance Union sponsored legislation increasing the age of consent to 16 and 18 years old. This reform swept the states in the 1880s, and its product remains the law today.What prompted the law was not a sense that love was a crime, but a fear familiar to current efforts to expand the sex offender registry at every chance: stranger danger. If young women were far from home, any predator could take advantage of them. The law was never intended to crush those young men and women who fell in love before lawmakers thought they should. Romeo ought not to be required to register as a sex offender.I am not writing in favor of decriminalizing sex offenses. These crimes cut to the very core of a person's sense of self-worth and dignity. When the crimes occur, they should be punished. But I am proposing that mandatory minimum sentences be eliminated so that judges can decide what the appropriate punishment and consequences should be. Social outrage can be expressed by legislative pronouncements of sentences and consequences in terms of rebuttable presumptions.A rebuttable presumption is a target. Lawmakers can say that for a given offense, a mandatory term of imprisonment of, let's say, one year is presumed reasonable. If a party facing such punishment thinks the prison term should be less than that, he and his lawyer would be free to rebut the presumption by giving the judge reasons to impose a lesser sentence. Thus, in the case of a Romeo and Juliet law, society could maintain its judgment that sex below a certain age is unwise and prohibited, but realize that to every rule there are exceptions. And what justification is there to require registration as a sex offender for consensual conduct?I believe reform advocates in each state and on the federal level should target statutes requiring mandatory prison time and registration for extinction. Each time you read the word "shall" in a statute, a terms of art eliminating judicial choice, rewrite the law to state "should, unless given reasons to do otherwise." Judges will often do the right thing if lawmakers let them. We need to persuade legislators to give judges the freedom to make judgments.

Also listed under: Sex Offenders and Justice

Comments: (21)

  • This reminds me of a young Texas Couple. She was ...
    This reminds me of a young Texas Couple. She was 16, he was 26. He was charged and prosecuted after they were married due to the fact that his wife had become pregnant 3 months before they tied the knot. Believe it or not, the hospital turned them in when their first child was born even though they were already married. The judge in this case did not want to administer any punishment at all. However, the prosecutor and probation office demanded the judge follow the letter of the law. Five years probation and lifetime registration as a "sex offender" has emotionally and financially devasted this couple and their children. Read their story on, 'The Family's Story'.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 3:37 am by marysueintx
  • Laws need to change. The public is not any safer....
    Laws need to change. The public is not any safer.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 3:39 am by Anonymous
  • Definitely a lot of this mess has to stop. The re...
    Definitely a lot of this mess has to stop. The registry is harming at least a million people when you add up the former offender, their family members and friends. The registry just puts a face and an address for vigilantes to hunt and kill. And they are.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 3:57 am by Anonymous
  • Amen Brother!
    Amen Brother!
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 4:00 am by Anonymous
  • Well done, Mr. Pattis. Thank you for stating so e...
    Well done, Mr. Pattis. Thank you for stating so eloquently what thousands upon thousands struggle with in frustration and hopelessness. I hope you are not being overly optimistic when you believe that judges will do the right thing if legislators will just let them.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 5:46 am by sandihr
  • I am a 56 year old man, whose only crime was downl...
    I am a 56 year old man, whose only crime was downloading, or possesing Child Porn Off Of The Internet. I served two & A Half years Federal Time For my offense. But I am required to register as a Sex Offender for this offense, even though I never made in of my own porn, Nor have I ever raped Or Molested any kids. Where is the fairness in that? Being registered keeps me from getting any kind of good paying job with benefits, Now is That Fair? Yo Me, No It's not, But failure to register gets yer ass tossed in prison.I feel That Sfter serving my time, That I should not be on the registry.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 7:00 am by Anonymous
  • Norm,
    While I agree that giving judges more leewa...
    While I agree that giving judges more leeway in sentencing would be an improvement, the problem remains that then you end up with drastic sentencing disparities that will generally cut along class, profession, and racial lines.
    Even when judges try to be fair, they seem to be unduly influenced by their own backgrounds, gender, race, class, etc. You also end up with judges who simply have different views on morality - one judge may view consensual sex between a 17yo and an 18yo as not that bad a thing; while another could view any consensual sex by people not married as a crime - and due to the leeway given him, be able to treat it as such.
    I don't claim to have an answer, nor do I know if there really is one; but I do know the current state of affairs is not justifiable. Between the United States' drug laws and it's "sex crime" laws, we are rapidly criminalizing a huge portion of our population. Combining that criminalization with severe restrictions on education, voting rights, and rights of assembly (as many sex registry and felon laws do), many times for life, we are rapidly preventing those with a different viewpoint from having any say in the direction of the country, and what should and should not be legal... which I obviously believe is to our eventual detriment, even without pointing out the immediate ghastly economic costs.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 8:09 am by Loki
  • You mentioned "lawmakers need re-education." You c...
    You mentioned "lawmakers need re-education." You couldn't be more right. They have no idea the consequences of their votes. Turning a teenager or young adult into a "sexual predator" for consensual sex is absolutely ridiculous. The state I live in, Illinois, is one of the worst states financially - we are BROKE! Yet Illinois continues to push for harsher and harsher laws to throw everyone in prison rather than serious reform. Instead they cut education (the most important aspect for our future generations) and throw teens in prison for "CONSENSUAL" relationships or looking at a few pictures. There is no focus on rehabilitation for the people out here that really need it. There is no focus on educating children and teens on sex and the internet and more importantly, the consequences of their actions. Our laws are not keeping up with technology and thousands are going to lose their futures because of laws that do not work.
    Look at the sex offender registry. This registry has not "saved one child" - yet it's destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives. How does having a 19 year old listed on the sex offender registry for teenage consensual sex with a 16 year old girl "protect our children?" How does having a GPS monitor (at the state's cost) on this same 19 year old "protect our children?" How is weekly treatment (at the state's cost) going to "reform" this same 19 year old?
    Education is key. We need to educate society on the "truth" of the registry and we need to "educate" our politicians so that they STOP sending people to prison for acts that should not be illegal in the first place. And for those already in prison, or those who may be a threat to society, lets refocus on serious reform: treatment and monitoring of ONLY those who pose a threat.
    We are wasting money, we are punishing to the extreme, we lack true reform and we are ruining hundreds of thousands of lives! Someone needs to step up, grow a pair and fix this mess!
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 9:01 am by toniat
  • Kudos to you for standing up to a great injustice ...
    Kudos to you for standing up to a great injustice in this country, As the mother of a registered sex-offender who lives in Texas, I can see first hand what is going on and cannot beleive it.This is a system gone awry and out of control. I am so glad that finally, people are realizing this and speaking out. I am willing to help in anyway I can to rectify this horrible situation. I am working with Texas Voices to help, but much more is needed.You are ray of sunshine in a dark world.
    Thank you, thank you,thank you!!
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 10:09 am by Anonymous
  • Mr. Pattis
    As the father of a mentally ill young m...
    Mr. Pattis
    As the father of a mentally ill young man caught up in the mandatory sentencing formalized in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines I have experienced first hand the devastation and ruin of my son's life because the judge felt he had no leeway to consider my son's illness. Poor judgment exacerbated by a manic episode led to my son viewing, and downloading child pornography on the internet. He never approached a child but that is not considered in the sentencing either. Predator? Not hardly. A danger to society? Absolutely not! A victim of the misguided and misinformed whipped into a frenzy by lies and half truths? Most certainly.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 10:19 am by Anonymous
  • Mr. Pattis,
    I agree that the proscuters are the ma...
    Mr. Pattis,
    I agree that the proscuters are the main problem. My Son was accused of touched a 16 year old girls breast. This happened at Taco Bell where my Son worked and the 16 year old that was almost 17 by a month. It happened during broad daylight of what she reported. My Son was married and just had a new baby. This girl didn't report this for almost 3 wks after it happened of what the police report had said. The girl was also sleeping with a 20 year old and he was beating her and didn't do anything to him. The system made him plead guilty so tha he could get a deal on getting a deffered. Promised he could serve his probation in UT with his wife and baby but that was all a lie. My Son has had this problem for almost years. He hasn't worked since 2005 and can't get a job because of the label. If it wasn't for his parents letting him live with them he would be homeless. I think that the Prosecutors should have more caring in there heart. They seem like they are not Christians. If you read the scriptures Satan can be on earth causing trouble and ruining peoples lives. Things need to change in the courts. It isn't right that my Son has a label for not having sex with anyone. I feel that the laws need to change. Why can't we see the Governors and Senators so that we can tell our story right? Life isn't Fair!!!!! Plus it is hard on the parents.
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm by Anonymous
  • I am just wondering if there would have been a Jes...
    I am just wondering if there would have been a Jesus if the laws would have been the same then. Mary married Joseph when she was about 14, he was in his thirties. Elvis, I guess he was a sex offende too, I think Priscilla was 15 when she moved in with him and his family.
    Uh Oh, please don't tell the authorities, my husband of 33 years is 7years older than I am. OMG does that mean a large percentage of people are probably sex offenders? What about our lawmakers, are they sex offender too? WOW where will we hide from all of these dangerous people?
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 2:38 pm by Anonymous
  • It is obvious that we need to be heard where it co...
    It is obvious that we need to be heard where it counts mosts. The registry needs to be reformed, extensively. It has 93% of non violent offenders on it. The economic costs are astronomical. Our voices need to be heard, at a legislation level. November is a great time to start. Let you voice be heard. I will not vote for anyone who supports any of these laws. do your home work. CALL your politicians. Be heard. Be done with a registry, residential restrictions, the taking away of one constitutional rights. If we wait the laws will only become more severe, causing anger, and outrage. Putting human beings in an impossible situations, and expecting them to except the piled on punishments that are unconstitutional.
    Posted on July 6, 2010 at 4:22 am by Matthew
  • Thank you for tackling this issue! My family and I...
    Thank you for tackling this issue! My family and I are living this nightmare also! My son was a very immature 19 year old who had "CONSENTUAL" sex with a very mature 13 year old. This young lady told the district attorney and our attorney that it was consentual. My son is currently serving an 8 year prison sentence in Texas for this. People on the block I/we live in are very supportive of my son. He told them personally about his legal troubles before he was sent to prison. We even live right next door to a policeman who adores my son. This policeman wrote a letter to the judge telling him that my son was not a threat to anyone. Although I stay positive and optimistic about his future in front of my son, the truth is I fear for what his life will be like once released from prison. Here is this kind, gentle, hard working young man who deserves to someday will have a family of his own. He will not be allowed to attend his child's school functions and his children will never have normal friendships that children need because of his label. Recently, my neighbor tried to sell his home. He had accepted and offer on it only to have the offer abruptly recended because the buyer found out that a "sex offender" lived across the street. Incorrect information obviously since my son will be living in prison for 7 more years - he's been locked up for over a year now. The registry has not only harmed the offender, the family of the offender but even neighbors and employers of these men. This registry is a living nightmare. I remember the Christmas before he was sent to prison. He spent hours putting up Christmas lights on our home only to find out that sex offenders can not decorate the home where they live. This is so unconstitutional. Thank you for your help. Please let me know if there is something I can do to help.....
    Posted on July 6, 2010 at 11:32 am by Anonymous
    Posted on July 7, 2010 at 12:27 am by iluvmyson
    Posted on July 7, 2010 at 12:30 am by iluvmyson
  • I do not know why it took me so long to figure thi...
    I do not know why it took me so long to figure this out? The answer is really quite simple, my dear Watson. Since judges are already free to deny defendants their 'Constitutional' and 'due process' rights with impunity, without explanation or accountability, why then shouldn't judges simply ignore sentencing guidelines and 'mandatory' minimums whenever they are nonsensical, inappropriate or just plain wrong?
    The judiciary is after all a check on the legislature. Slavish adherence to stupid laws by sentencing judges is indicative of a simple and simplistic mind. Judges are not automatons, nor should they be. Laws were meant to be broken, that's why they're called 'laws'. Laws are ideals of human behavior codified thru a flawed legislative process. Many of us who break any number of laws on a daily basis are hardly aware that so many, or such laws, even exist. And we certainly are not taught the wording of those statutes (laws).
    These outrageous sentences and the judges who impose them are really silly. More governors, judges and other official should get actively involved instead of standing around passively. That's what I would do if I were a judge. And then, if they didn't like the altered sentence imposed by me, they could impeach me. As a judge, I know I'm not going to prison for doing the right thing.
    The only laws I slavishly follow are the Ten Commandments, and I don't mind saying so. Remember, as you yourself have said, "The State is a necessary fiction." I would emphasize the 'fiction' part, and not the 'necessary' part. Much of what is performed under color of the State is unnecessary. And harmful, I might add. These ridiculous mandatory minimums are a perfect example of that.
    Judges are already entitled to throw out jury verdicts in some jurisdictions. Why should they not be entitled to throw out mandatory minimums? We have invested judges with tremendous powers; let them use those powers for the good of all participants. Or move over and let somebody else do the job.
    Posted on July 7, 2010 at 11:20 pm by William Doriss
  • Problem is, some judges want the max given to thes...
    Problem is, some judges want the max given to these fellas, they are corrupt, are paid under the table...lots going on behind all of our backs that are just unfair and no one will stand up against the insanity. District Attorneys seem to be the god of the courtroom these days. Whatever they want, they get, and it's usually a plea bargain because they terrify the young men into "either you take the plea or we'll give you 50 years in prison" type tactics.
    I'm sorry, the registry must go, and go soon. It has not saved anyone and has killed and harmed too many children/families/former offenders. I'm more scared of a robber, a dwi'er and a murderer than I am someone who chatted online with a teenager, downloaded child porn by mistake (I think the cops own some of these sites, aren't they selling porn and why aren't they prosecuted?) - slept with his girlfriend, etc.
    Posted on July 8, 2010 at 11:36 am by Anonymous
  • Thank you Norm for your intelligent and thought-pr...
    Thank you Norm for your intelligent and thought-provoking article describing what thousands of young people and their families are going through today. During the last 5 months my own son has been sitting in jail, waiting for "something" to happen in a case that would fit right into the "Romeo and Juliet" Law, if California had one.The comments of your readers here are so encouraging to us!! We are located at: and invite yourself and anyone else who may be interested to come see what we're about. We are committed to changing the laws so our young people, in the context of loving relationships ae not villified, condemned, and punished for life simply for loving another.
    Posted on July 11, 2010 at 7:47 pm by Ca Romeo and Juliet Law
  • I too, Mr. Pattis, strongly desire to ease the suf...
    I too, Mr. Pattis, strongly desire to ease the suffering of many families like my own; as well as every other person that is devastated by these corupted choices made. Speaking as a 19 year old sex offender prosecuted in may- I fell head over heals for someone; I invested all I was into that person. (time, money, service, kindness, friendship, trust, etc.) But the outsome of the situation was more than a broken heart- a broken family, broken friendships, living in fear, being harrassed, looked down upon, judged without understanding or listening.
    nearly 3 months after the deceased relationship, my love turned up pregnant by an 18 year old male; The same one that won her over from me. I was still grieving my loss at the time she told me. What's worse is that she became desperate when I refused her blackmail; to run back to her and become responsible for the man's child in which at the time had left her. She explained that if i didn't, she'd call the cops and destroy my life.
    Because of the way the law works on these cases (one size fits all) I was convicted, forced out of the place I called home for 9 years and onto the streets (because my backyard connects to the elementary school I went to as a child), I went into debt with court fees, a fine, and a loan, and treated as though I seek out little girls and boys. Some of the sickest things you could imagine, I was exposed to in only a few months. I'm labeled as though I were a notorious preditor that rapes, kills, or mutalates innocent children.
    It hasn't been three months since I was forced to register. I've lost nearly all of my friends. And the ones that still talk to me, and even knew about my relationship with my girlfriend, no longer want to be seen with me or talk to me. This is a summary of my testimony, this is me personally proclaiming that I WANT to be a part in changing the law. I want to aid in ridding the corruption and poor judgement. I need to make a Difference. If there is something I can do to help, please keep writing on this board, I'll check it periodically.
    Posted on July 13, 2010 at 10:53 am by Anonymous
  • this comment is in response to the comment made by...
    this comment is in response to the comment made by "anonymous" on july 13,2010 6:53pm
    --not sure if this comment was in response to mine--if it was--
    "anonymous" please go to the website I listed above, click on "my profile" and then click "email" if you wish. I have lots of good support people, who are also running their own programs to change SO laws, in other states as well as CA. (don't know where you're from). Or you may join the site as "Anonymous" and get the info we post there, though that may not be specific enough for you. Wanted to say, your story brought tears to my eyes.You suffered a terrible injustice. You have been brave. That is something to be acknowledged and admired. I understand how horrific it must be for you, I have the same worries for my own son. Just know that there are people out there who will support you without judgement, who will see the person behind the "crime"...and are interested in the same fight for justice as you are!! Stay Strong!! Feel free to contact us!!
    California for Romeo and Juliet Law-
    Posted on July 13, 2010 at 11:27 pm by Ca Romeo and Juliet Law

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