Registering as a Sex Offender for Life: The Modern Scarlet Letter

While most of us agree on the importance of protecting children and adults from sexual predators, there is growing dissent about how best to accomplish this goal. Many cases are revealing cracks in the efficacy of one-size-fits-all sex offense laws.

One is the case of Zachery Anderson, an Indiana 19-year-old. The case has galvanized opposition to laws requiring sex offenders to register for life.

Zachery corresponded online with a girl who said she was 17 but was actually 14. Eventually, they met in Michigan and had sex.

In Seattle and throughout Washington State, this might not have been a crime. A person who reasonably believes a young person’s false statement of her age has a defense to a child sex abuse charge. Not so in Oregon, we recently learned while representing a man there. And not so, apparently, in Michigan.

The girl’s parents were worried about her absence and called the police. The police were at the family home when the girl returned. The police then contacted Zachery, who cooperated with them.

Cooperating with police is a common mistake I frequently see as criminal defense attorney. People, especially young people, who have never been in trouble before don’t understand that the police are in the business of building criminal cases. An officer may feel bad about the impact her work will have on the life of a normally law-abiding person, but that usually doesn’t stop the officer from doing what she sees as her job.

Zachery was convicted of an offense that requires sex offender registration, possibly for life. He also has been prohibited from using the Internet—quite an obstacle to his completing his college studies in computer science.

At 8:00 p.m., July 9th, Seattle’s KUOW, 94.9 FM, will broadcast an episode of To the Point that ponders whether sex offender registration laws should be relaxed.