An Open Letter To Our California State Lawmakers

-This letter was originally composed and sent to our Senators on July 28, 2010.

 Dear California Senators,

I am a native and lifelong Californian. I am a mother and a grandmother, an advocate for women and children of domestic violence, as well as my current role of activist and administrator of our cause, "California for Romeo and Juliet Law".

Our mission to promote awareness, advocate for and proactively seek change in the way our young people are identified and sentenced, as well as to seek change in our California Sex Offender Law with regard to young people who would fall into the "Romeo and Juliet" category, arose through the personal experiences of our own family.

Our youngest son, who had never been in trouble before, is just going into his 6th month of incarceration in our county jail (he has not been sentenced yet), accused of committing consensual, intimate acts, in the context of a loving relationship with a teen girlfriend who lied about her age.

While we agree with tough sentencing and well-monitored Sex Offender Registration for those who have committed violent and/or predatory crimes, we feel it is a mistake that boyfriend/girlfriend scenarios are grouped together with pedophiles, molesters, and rapists.

We feel that with careful consideration and planning, that California is ready to join with other states in the union by introducing the Romeo and Juliet Law. A law that would provide distinct separation, clarification, and clear definition for cases where the relationship has been known to exist, has been "consensual" by both parties, and where there has been no violence, no coercion, and no predatory behavior.

As part of the proposed law, we would like to see California Law Statutes relevant to teens and their sexuality included in our student's public school Sexual Education Classes. We feel it is a disservice to give teens and young people the reproductive facts, without mention of our State's legal stance on the subject. During our quest for knowledge and information for our cause, we found it incredible how many young people have no idea what is and what isn't legal, as well as the very serious circumstances they may face, if charged in these cases.

Interestingly noted; many parents were just as confused, some even believing sex was "okay" between two minors (as in two sixteen year old's), not realizing the exact definition of "underage". As well as a number of both teens and parents who thought that no one could be prosecuted for any act other than "sexual intercourse".

With such prevalent confusion, among adults as well as students, we feel the classroom would provide the perfect opportunity and environment for our students to be accurately informed. Our hope is that the sharing of information beginning at middle-school level, with reinforcements each year thereafter, may actually strengthen ties between students knowledge-wise, as well as help to deter people of a young age from participating in underage sex.

We feel it is of great importance to include legislation relevant to parental responsibility and accountability with regards to the "minor" who has participated in these consensual acts. As there is a great deal of gender bias when it comes to charging and prosecuting young women in these cases, it is statistically, the young men who are brought in on charges. However, by reading the following statistics, we can see that younger females are indeed consenting (whether the law allows them to or not), participating, and doing so with young men up to at least 3+ years older, who are considered to be steady, loving relationships.

The Guttmacher Institute reports (as of January 2010) that:

Nearly half (46%)of all 15-19 year olds in the US have had sex at least 1 (one) time.

By age 19, 7 out of 10 never married teens have engaged in sexual intercourse.

The majority (59%) of sexually experienced females had a sexual partner who was 1-3 years older. Only 8% had a first partner who was 6 or more years older.

More than 3/4 of teen females report that their first sexual experience was with a steady boyfriend, a fiance', husband, or co-habitating partner.

Additionally, only adding to the problem, is the increase of cases that involve outright lying by the minor involved. Guttmacher Institute found:

67% of teen girls aged 13-15 have lied about their age in "Romeo and Juliet" type cases.

68% of teen girls aged 16-17 have lied about their age in "Romeo and Juliet" type cases.

We have to wonder what has happened to our justice system, when there is absolutely no accountability on the part of the one who has lied. Considering the seriousness of the consequences brought down on the life of the accused, we feel it unfair to allow these (usually)young females to wander off into the sunset, and continue with this type of behavior, while the (usually) young male's life is forever disrupted and ruined.

As a parent must assume responsibility for their minor child until that child reaches the age of eighteen years old, we feel that in a case where a minor child "incapable of giving consent", has consented, or a minor child has lied about or intentionally omitted facts that would reveal the minor's true age, and may have prevented the entire situation from occurring in the first place had the truth be known; that the minor child's parents must assume accountability.

It would be interesting to note the perhaps timely drop in cases like these happening in the first place,as well as an even timelier drop in cases where the minor has lied about their age. After all, it suddenly is taken seriously once a teen's parents are involved and held to a certain degree of responsibility.

We advocate to do away with prison sentencing for these non-violent, non-predatory offenders, as well as recommend that no longer would those accused in a "Romeo and Juliet" scenario be subject to mandatory, lifetime Sex Offender Registration. Locking up our young men hasn't prevented teens from being sexually active, nor has it succeeded in preventing teen pregnancy, as California still has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in a country with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the world. Putting our "Romeo's" on the Sex Offender Registry only clogs the rolls with "offenders" whose cases by their very nature, are not in any way dangerous or threatening to family, neighbors, nor the community at large.

Our son's future is uncertain. He had hoped to go to college. His interest is graphic arts. He is a talented writer, artist, musician, and a friend to everyone. He would give the shirt off of his own back to help another, and expect nothing in return. He hasn't ever, nor would he ever,harm another person, animal, or living thing. He is, all around, an amazing individual.

In the months since his incarceration, we've watched our once energetic, upbeat, forward-thinking son become discouraged, frustrated, and depressed.  He worries for his young future (20 years old now, it is alleged his "crime" took place when he was 17 1/2-18 years of age).

The fact that he may never make it to college,and the worry of where he will live, should he be put onto the Registry, haunt him. He wonders how in the world he will ever find a way to support himself, and with the stigmatization,threats and violence which have been perpetrated on sex offenders, there is a sense of real fear.

He is sad to think that never again (if put on the Registry) can he be one of the favorite uncles to his niece and new nephew, nor be included in family gatherings, celebrations or holidays where young cousins may be present.

He worries that one day, 20 or so years from now, he may have a family of his own. How will he explain to his children that he can never take them to the park, to the fair, to the play place at McDonald's? How will he explain that because he once had a teenage girlfriend, and was intimate with her, while a teen himself, over twenty years ago, that now, his own children will never be allowed to have friends over to the house?

Is that reasonable?
Is that considered just and fair, when his "crime" defined has absolutely nothing to do with preying on young children, or predatory acts of any kind?

These teens are not "hardened criminals". They are just kids who acted physically on their young love for another.They did not murder. They did not use force. They did not harm nor maim. As they are held responsible for their actions, by the laws of California, we ask, for that act/acts, is it truly justified that they pay for the rest of their lives?

While we understand that the public is taken aback with any suggestion of a sex offender, and that lawmakers are wary and hesitant about taking anything away from the Registry, thus perhaps appearing to be "soft" on crime, we feel that change is long overdue with respect to a Romeo and Juliet Law for California. To introduce this change would be injecting some semblance of reason and justice back into Sex Crime Law.

We see this simply as a re-definition, a re-classification, which will not only work towards positive reductions as far as the budget crisis, but by not sentencing these specific cases to mandatory prison minimums, it would go a long way towards the prison overcrowding issue. This would create opportunities for law enforcement to better monitor the offenders that society needs protection from; the "criminally dangerous" offender. It is currently estimated that 30% of the nation's Registry are young people who fall into the "Romeo and Juliet" category. By eliminating these who are not considered a threat to the public, or dangerous in any way, we can free up our law enforcement personnel to strictly enforce the laws made for the dangerous predator, and we will never have a case like Philip Garrido slip through the cracks again.

We appreciate your time and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

California For Romeo and Juliet Law

Awareness-Advocacy-Change

Unlawful Sex With A Minor - What It Really Means

One of the most common misconceptions we have encountered in our studies, conversations, and networking around the country has been the mistaken idea that Unlawful Sex With A Minor charges apply only to those who have been involved in a relationship in which one partner was a minor, the other partner, an adult (over eighteen years old in California).

It is important to note that Unlawful Sex With A Minor charges include any circumstance in which both partners involved in "consensual" intimate relationships, have been minors, as well.

Many parents, as well as their young teens, were unaware that these charges existed, and were just as serious for two sixteen year olds (for example), or a fourteen and sixteen year old, or any combination of "teens" under the age of eighteen years old.

California law is clear on the fact that anyone under the age of eighteen years old is "incapable" of giving consent, making any intimate contact, even within the context of a loving, boyfriend/girlfriend (or boyfriend/boyfriend, girlfriend/girlfriend, as the case may be) relationship illegal.

Please see our "California Law Statutes" for the precise letter of the law. Educate yourselves, as well as your teens. While teen sexuality may seem a commonplace subject, and teen sexual activity may seem accepted, amongst teens, and in certain circles, "tolerated" to a degree by adults; these charges are extremely serious; their consequences, life altering.

What Is Needed To Convict ? Common Misconceptions

A common misconception amongst teens, as well as some adults, with regard to Romeo and Juliet cases, is that it must be either the underage minor in the relationship or his/her parents that "press charges" in the case.

The truth is that only the District Attorney can actually bring charges against a person to make a case. However, the actual information, or initial "tip" can be passed along to the Police Department by ANYONE.

Countless cases have been charged and prosecuted despite the fact that the minor in question and his/her parents:

-had known of the relationship

-had acknowledged it was consensual in nature

- had actually objected to charges being brought.

Whether or not the other parties object to the bringing of charges is of no consequence, as once it has been reported to the police (and the District Attorney has determined there is enough evidence to bring charges) it becomes the complaint of the state, and is out of the hands of the citizens for good.

While there are mandated reporters; teachers, counselors, doctors, nurses, and daycare providers among them, whose duty it is to report anything of this nature to police, absolutely ANYONE can make a report regarding Sex With A Minor charges.

It is important to note that once charges have been brought, there are only 3 things needed to convict:

1. The "victim's" (legal terminology) initial statement.

2. The "responsibility of assumption" of the "victim's" age by
the defendant.

3. The "victim's" testimony.

Another common misconception is that there must be physical evidence to convict.

Many people assume there must be identifiable DNA (such as a "rape kit", a pregnancy, or other means of identification, such as a shared STD).

However, unlike murder, unlike just about every other type of crime, this "crime" requires absolutely NO physical evidence to convict.

Add to that the Statute of Limitations for "Statutory Rape" and related charges, being up to 3 years in California, and perhaps a picture is beginning to form of just how easily charges can be brought in these Romeo and Juliet cases.

We urge you to read the California Penal Code, as well as the Statutes relevant to these charges for yourself.

Take the time to speak with and educate your teens about the seriousness of these charges, the possible ramifications they may have on their lives, and how relatively easily these charges can be brought.

Each family teaches their own ethics, their own morality, with regards to their teenagers becoming sexually active. But until we can incorporate the facts and fundamentals of teen-related California Sex Crime Law into our student's Sexual Education classes, where we can ensure the broad spectrum of our youth will absolutely be informed; it is our duty as parents and educators to do so.

With the proposed Romeo and Juliet Law for California, we hope to bring a voice of reason to our Sex Crime laws.

We want to save our teens and young adults from mandatory prison sentencing, mandatory lifetime sex offender registration, possible "aversion" therapy, possible lifetime mandatory GPS tracking, and any and all other punishments that were originally created and meant for violent and predatory sex offenses, primarily against children.

Please join us by reading the materials here, sharing with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and signing our petition!

We need to make the California Romeo and Juliet Law a reality, for the sake of all our young people!

California For Romeo and Juliet Law
Awareness-Advocacy-Change

Unlawful Sex With A Minor Vs. Lewd And Lascivious Conduct - the Differences

Under California law, there are two separate categories that one may be charged in with regard to Romeo and Juliet scenarios.

The first is "Unlawful Sex With A Minor" (formerly known as "Statutory Rape").

The second is the far more serious of the two, "Lewd and Lascivious Conduct".

These are the two main categories from which other charges (such as "Oral Copulation" or "Sexual Battery") may stem.

Although the general subject matter is similar, the distinct definitions, circumstances, and consequences are vastly different.

UNLAWFUL SEX WITH A MINOR (formerly known as "Statutory Rape"):


Unlawful Sex With A Minor charges are the less serious of the two. The basic definition involves an act of engaging in sexual intercourse with a person below the legal age of consent, but above the age of a child (usually determined to be 14 years of age).


An Unlawful Sex With A Minor case can be charged as either a misdemeanor, or a felony. In legal terms, this is what is known as a "wobbler", and largely depends on the age of the minor involved as to how it will be charged.


With a minor not more than 3 years older or 3 years younger than the accused:

MISDEMEANOR/ Up to 1 year in County Jail/ $1000 in fines.

With a minor more than 3 years younger:

MISDEMEANOR or FELONY/ 1 year in County Jail or State Prison/ $1000-$10,000 in fines.

When the accused is 21 years of age and minor is 16 years of age or younger:

MISDEMEANOR or FELONY/ 1 year in County Jail OR 2,3, or 4 years in State Prison / $1000-$10,000 in fines.


"Consent" is not a defense to these charges, as California law deems that anyone under 18 years of age (a minor) is incapable of giving consent.


All of these convictions require probation/parole.


Unlike the more serious Lewd and Lascivious charges, Unlawful Sex With A Minor DOES have a provision that says if one honestly and reasonably believed that the alleged "victim" was over the age of 18 at the time, one CANNOT be convicted under this law.

The three requirements to prove this are:

Statements made by the "victim" that he/she was over 18 years of age.

General appearance or attire of "victim"(leading one to believe they were older).

Where the accused met the "victim" (as in an adult venue, such as an 18 and over club, or at an adult party).

However, these requirements, in many cases, are hard to prove.


If convicted of Unlawful Sex With A Minor in California, the law does NOT require Sex Offender Registration.


LEWD AND LASCIVIOUS CONDUCT:


Lewd and Lascivious Conduct charges are by far the more serious of the two.

The main reason someone in a Romeo and Juliet case would be charged with Lewd and Lascivious Conduct RATHER than Unlawful Sex With A Minor, is the age, as well as the age difference, of and between the minor and the adult.


Lewd and Lascivious Conduct involves touching a minor anywhere on the body (even on the outside of the clothing) "with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions or sexual desires of either party".

Each independent act (each touch to different parts of the body, whether they are sexual parts or not) is counted as an "act", or a "count". This means that even if there were only one occasion, or one "incident", several "acts" could be charged.


Sexual Intercourse is not required to be charged under this law.


A Lewd and Lascivious charge is always a Felony charge.

Involving a Minor, below 14 years old/ 3, 6, or 8 years in State Prison/$10,000 in fines.

Parole/Possible GPS tracking device/Possible psychotherapy or behavior modification.

Mandatory Lifetime Sex Offender Registration.

Mistaken belief in the minor's age is NOT a defense to this charge.

"Consent" is not a defense, as California law deems that anyone under the age of 18 years old (a minor), is incapable of giving consent.


Although the exact definition of this law varies from state to state, in California, Lewd and Lascivious Conduct can be comprised of many different charges.

Prostitution, pornography, indecent acts, indecent exposure and co-habitating with an unmarried partner in a sexual relationship (this one is rarely used any more), all fall under the Lewd and Lascivious law.

Validity of the Victim's Testimony Clause

We have recently received mail regarding the question of the validity of the "Victim's Testimony Clause".

The victim's testimony is one of three things needed to convict someone in California in an Underage Sex With A Minor, or Lewd and Lascivious Conduct case.

It happens quite frequently in cases that would fall under the Romeo and Juliet Law, were California to have one, that the "victim" will refuse to testify against their boyfriend or girlfriend. There is a clause in California law that prevents the victim having to testify if it is deemed that their participation in testimony would be detrimental to said victim.

However, it is not often that this clause is upheld. Any aggressive district attorney will subpoena the victim, or at least their testimony (whether or not it is in open court or by deposition). In these cases, the testimony must be given, and to do it by deposition bypasses the clause in that it is reasoned that behind closed doors it is somehow less detrimental or traumatic.

Therefore, it is almost unheard of that the victim's testimony will not be taken, in one form or another, whether the victim initially wishes to grant it to the court or not.

Sociable

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