Parents of Young Sex Offenders Say Arizona's Laws Too Strict
Doug Ramsey, KTAR, October 30, 2006
A panel of lawmakers and law enforcers is looking into the touchy subject of youthful sex offenders.
They're hearing from parents who say when they try to get help for their children, the kids end up being branded for life.
Elizabeth McDonald's 13-year-old son talked his 7-year-old cousin into sexual experimentation which led to him fondling her privates. There was no intercourse. When the girl's mother took her for counseling, the law required the police to be notified.
McDonald was unaware how strict Arizona's laws have become regarding sexual contact with children. She advised her son to cooperate.
Though it was a first offense, and a psychologist identified him as a low risk to re-offend, Mcdonald's son was charged as an adult child molester.
The McDonalds were given no real choice. They could accept a plea bargain that required lifetime probation and registration as a sex offender, or risk going to trial and facing a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.
Today at age 19, as part of probation, the young man lives in a halfway house for drug abusers, sex offenders and other criminals.
Other families told similar stories. Laura Jo Richens says her son admitted his problem, sought counseling, and did everything that was asked of him.
At one point, the panel was told there are 100,000 underage Arizona children who are sexually active and under current law, they could all be charged with sex crimes.
Mesa lawmaker Karen Johnson, who chairs the committee, says in their zeal to punish child molesters, the legislature has gone too far.
Johnson would like to see the law changed to prohibit prosecution of children as adults for non-violent or non-forcible sex crimes.
However, Johnson admits doing so will be politically difficult if not impossible to achieve.