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Judge's sentencing for student met with national outrage

People are told that laws and the justice system are in place to protect victims and appropriately punish people who commit a crime. In many cases, this is what happens. However, the system is far from perfect and there are times when the measures designed to protect people actually work against them.

One example of this played out in another state but the story has captured national headlines. The case involves a man who was 19 and a girl he met online. What started as a casual and friendly encounter online spiraled into what is arguably a prime example of a broken system.

There are a lot of details in the case, but essentially what happened is a 19-year-old man met a girl on a website for people 18 and older. However, she later told him she was 17. The two agreed to meet up and had consensual sex. That could have been the end of it, but it turns out the girl was actually only 14.

From that point, the man was treated by prosecutors and the judge not as a young man who was lied to but as an online predator of underage girls, even though the girl with whom he had sex and her mother pleaded with the court for leniency and asked that nothing happen to the young man. There were also questions raised about an erroneous police investigation that went unresolved.

Despite these factors, the judge issued a harsh penalty after lecturing the man about "trolling for women" and commented on the current culture of young people meeting online, calling it "totally inappropriate behavior," before sentencing the man to jail, probation and the requirement to register as a sex offender. The judge also banned him from using a computer, which destroyed the man's aspirations of graduating as a computer science major.

Appeals are underway, but there has been widespread outrage at the judge's sentence and criticisms about how some states treat people who are lied to by victims regarding age.

It will be interesting to see how this case plays out and whether it will affect laws in other states. As it stands, this situation serves as a brutal reminder that the system doesn't always work as expected and an aggressive, persistent defense strategy can be crucial.

Source: South Bend Tribune, "Was justice served after teen's encounter with girl?" Virginia Black, June 22, 2015

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