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June 9, 2015

Michigan teen, guilty of misdemeanor after encounter with girl claiming to be 17, facing extreme sex offender restrictions

DownloadThis lengthy local story, headlined "'Old-fashioned scarlet letter': Elkhart 19-year-old fights sex offender status after encounter with Michigan teen," reviews a notable case highlighting problems with overly broad sex offender registry laws. The piece is subheadlined "During his five years of probation, he can’t have a smart phone or any other device that connects to the Internet, and he can’t live anywhere with Internet access," and here are excerpts:

As Zach Anderson sits in the Berrien County Jail in St. Joseph, Mich., his parents worry. And plead. And fight.

The young man from Elkhart, 19, pleaded guilty in Berrien County, Mich., Trial Court in March to a misdemeanor count of criminal sexual conduct for having sex — consensual sex — on Dec. 19, 2014, with a Niles, Mich., teen. She said she was 17, and met him in person after a whirlwind courtship in cyberspace that started with a meeting via the social app Hot or Not.

It turns out she was only 14, though, two years under the age of consent in Michigan. And now, Anderson finds himself sitting out a 90-day jail sentence, with another five years probation and, of particular concern to his parents, 25 years on Michigan’s sex offender registry. Worse yet, Les and Amanda Anderson, who run a small Elkhart media and printing company, fear their son could face a lifetime on Indiana’s sex offender registry on returning to the Elkhart area after his jail sentence is up.

“Here’s the thing: This mistake should not haunt him the rest of his life,” Les Anderson says from the family home in east Elkhart. That’s where his son — a 2014 Concord High School grad and Ivy Tech Community College student until his jailing — lived before Judge Dennis Wiley handed down the sentence on April 27.

In light of Zach Anderson’s age and clean criminal record, Wiley could have offered him leniency under Michigan’s Holmes Youthful Training Act, as his lawyer sought in sentencing. The Niles girl and her mom — whom the Elkhart Truth won’t name because the teen is a victim — even asked for leniency, asked that the case be dropped altogether.

“What do I say? I feel that nothing should happen to Zach,” the girl said at the first of his two sentencing hearings April 13, accompanied by her mother. “I, I mean I, I don’t know. I just ... if you feel like something should, I feel like the lowest thing possible.”

Her mom followed her daughter at the hearing. “I don’t want him to be a sex offender because he really is not and I know that there’s an age difference and I realize that (name deleted) was inappropriate that night, we didn’t know,” the mother said. She continued: “I’m very sorry and I hope you’ll really consider the fact of just dropping the case. I can’t say anything more than that. I hope you really will for all of our families.”

Wiley didn’t drop the case and ultimately denied Zach Anderson HYTA status, told him he’s “darn lucky” he got the deal he did. HYTA, geared to first-time offenders ages 17 to 21, allows eligible participants to expunge criminal convictions on complying with sentencing conditions, thus avoiding the stigma of a criminal record as they enter their adult years.

The criminal sexual conduct conviction and having to put his name on the list of sex offenders could have dramatic and far-reaching implications for Anderson, his dad says. Lost job and educational opportunities. Social stigmatization. Discrimination. Accordingly, the Andersons will fight the sentencing in court. They plan to argue for HYTA status based on what they and their backers believe to be discrepancies in the sentencing process.

“That is our goal: to get him off the list and be able to function as a normal person in society, be able to live his life like any other person. Because at the end of the day, this is the old-fashioned scarlet letter,” Les Anderson says. He went on: “My son, he’s not a danger to anybody. He’s not dangerous to society. … He’s not going to hurt a little girl. That’s not going to happen.” Even under HYTA guidelines, Zach Anderson would face punishment and repercussions. “It’s not a cake walk. There’s still classes and counseling and restrictions that go along with that. ... That is just much more reasonable than the extreme that he got,” says Amanda Anderson....

Per Hot or Not rules, those ages 13 to 17 are kept separate from users 18 and older. However, in creating a Hot or Not account, the 14-year-old Niles girl identified herself as 18 or over, John Gardiner, Zach Anderson’s first attorney, said in sentencing. After connecting on Hot or Not, the two texted back and forth and, along the way, the girl told Zach Anderson she was 17. He asked her for pictures “of intimate body parts,” Jerry Vigansky, an assistant Berrien County prosecutor, said at sentencing.

Two days after the initial contact, on Dec. 19, they met, according to the girl’s account to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department responding officer, or R/O, who interviewed her. Authorities got involved, ultimately resulting in the criminal charges, after the girl’s mother called for help the evening of Dec. 19, wondering where her daughter was as she met with Zach Anderson. She worried the girl would miss a dose of medicine....

Call their social app-enabled rendezvous a cautionary tale of the times, one of the consequences of the high-tech, always-connected, Internet-everywhere age we live in. That’s how Wiley, the judge, seemed to view it, as did Vigansky, the prosecuting attorney, and even Gardiner, Zach Anderson’s original lawyer....

Vigansky said there had been “a little rash” of encounters in Berrien County of late like the one between Zach Anderson and the 14-year-old girl. There had been two of them, anyway. He took a dim view, sarcastically alluding to “this great website called Hot or Not.”

“You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women, to meet and have sex with,” scolded Wiley. “That seems to be part of our culture now. Meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this.”...

Per Wiley’s sentence, Zach Anderson faces a long list of restrictions during the five years of probation. He can’t have a computer, except for schooling. Can’t have a smart phone or any other device that connects to the Internet. Can’t live anywhere with Internet access. Can’t have an account with Facebook or any other online social network.

He can’t have contact with anyone 17 or younger, his siblings excepted. Can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school. He faces a daily 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. home curfew. He’s to continue his studies, in consultation with his field agent, but can’t take any computer or computer science classes, which had been the planned focus of his Ivy Tech education. “This is what got him in trouble in the first place,” the judge said in sentencing.

To Les Anderson, the restrictions are extreme, the requirement to get on the sexual offender registry unnecessary. “Instead of trying to rehabilitate people, they set them up to fail because there are so many restrictions on them,” he said. That’s why he, his wife and the rest of the family are fighting. They’ve hired Grabel to investigate the legal recourses potentially at Zach Anderson’s disposal, especially to ease the registry requirement. They’ve created a Facebook page, “Justice 4 Zach Anderson, Elkhart.” They seek donations to help offset legal and other costs, $30,900 and counting. They’re selling yellow “Justice 4 Zach” T-shirts.

“Anybody that’s got common sense looks at this and they’re just blown away,” says Les Anderson. “It comes back to the punishment does not fit the crime. Regardless of how you feel about this, the punishment is way too harsh.”

June 9, 2015 at 09:59 AM | Permalink

Comments

"Per Wiley’s sentence, Zach Anderson faces a long list of restrictions during the five years of probation. He can’t have a computer, except for schooling. Can’t have a smart phone or any other device that connects to the Internet. Can’t live anywhere with Internet access. Can’t have an account with Facebook or any other online social network.

He can’t have contact with anyone 17 or younger, his siblings excepted. Can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school. He faces a daily 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. home curfew. He’s to continue his studies, in consultation with his field agent, but can’t take any computer or computer science classes, which had been the planned focus of his Ivy Tech education. “This is what got him in trouble in the first place,” the judge said in sentencing."

No, you idiot judge, it is the stupid laws and the stupid lawmakers (aka, pandering politicians, hear that Jones, Bouchard, Snyder?) who got him in trouble. Be a college student and can't have a computer, my b-tt!

You (government) have earned all the disrespect that comes your way and don't complain. You deserve it more than this young man.

Posted by: albeed | Jun 9, 2015 10:32:37 AM

Can't have a computer? In this day and age? How is this young man supposed to rebuild his life in an age of computers if he can't have a computer? Where aren't there computers? He won't be able to find housing with his scarlet letter, if he lives at home, there goes mom and dad's computer, cellphone, anything with internet access. Computers are BAD for him, but it's fine to post his picture, name and address on a computer SOR?

No Judge, the computer isn't what got him into trouble in the first place, human error did. Here's a young man who thought he was communicating with a 17 yr old on line, not a 14 yr old. And for the prosecuting attorney to say this guy was "trolling the internet for women, to meet and have sex with" is just crude. Two young people made human errors, young people have been doing it for eons, just not on computers, before this it was the backseat of a car, foggy windows at the drive-in. But the angelic prosecutors are hellbent on making mountains out of molehills, pedophiles out of innocent people and ruining not just one life, but so many others.

I wonder how they live with themselves?

Posted by: kat | Jun 9, 2015 11:33:23 AM

Hopefully, the governor will pardon this guy. Classic example of making a mountain out of a mole hill. Placing him on the registry also devalues the entire registry--you can't tell the difference between this guy (not a threat) and some guy who molested a 3 year old (a serious threat). Plain stupid.

Posted by: hmmm | Jun 9, 2015 1:18:26 PM

Where is the defense here?

The defendant was a rape victim. That brazen hussy committed rape by deception. She lied. The vile feminist lawyer and its male running dogs put him, the rape victim, in jail. Then the rape victim has to go on the Sex Offender Registry.

The more proper punishment would be a fine equivalent to the value of having sex with that girl, around $50.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 9, 2015 1:35:03 PM

We have an even more outrageous rape case here in Kentucky that was argued before the state's Supreme court in February 2015. In Kentucky, the age of consent for sex is 16. Parents discovered naked pics of their 13 year old daughter and her 15 year old boyfriend on her iPhone. Upon questioning by her parents, she admitted that she and her boyfriend of 2 years had had consensual sex recently. The parents went to the county attorney, who prosecuted the boy for statutory rape in juvenile court. Upon conviction, he was removed from his parents home and is presently being held at a state juvenile facility until at least his 18th birthday. He will also remain upon a sex offender registry for 20 years. The girl was not prosecuted. The issue on appeal is whether any crime at all was committed. The 16-year old age of consent implies that for statutory rape to occur, at least one of the participants must be older than 16. In this case, where both the boy and the girl are younger than 16, arguably, no crime has been committed by either. The Kentucky Supreme Court has not yet released an opinion in the case.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 9, 2015 5:26:26 PM

"Per Wiley’s sentence, Zach Anderson faces a long list of restrictions during the five years of probation. He can’t have a computer, except for schooling. Can’t have a smart phone or any other device that connects to the Internet. Can’t live anywhere with Internet access. Can’t have an account with Facebook etc, etc.....

Nothing new there. I know of a federal case that had the same restrictions and more because a 19 yr. old kid was caught in a FBI sting 'viewing and having' underage porn from the internet. they were looking at a felony with a mandatory minimum of 10 yrs in fed prison but accepted a plea for 2 yrs. plus 5 yrs. probation and placement on the national SOR. Talk about crazy outcomes the justice system is sicker than the individuals they prosecute and many of the federal prosecutors who push these cases to the max are truly sick sadistic human beings that could match the worst of the worst of the very lawbreakers they are going after because they believe their own bullshit.

Posted by: Wiser for the experience | Jun 9, 2015 7:13:02 PM

.

Posted by: .. | Jun 9, 2015 7:13:20 PM

remember how everyone fell over themselves to take up the cudgel of the football player in Georgia? In that case, there was evidence of coercion and the guy knew the girl's age. Here, none. Funny how the national media say nothing.

As for me, this is an asinine result. It is intolerably cruel, and it is shameful. Sleep well prosecutors. It's not something I could or would ever do. And no one can doubt my bona fides about punishing criminals.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 10, 2015 12:35:07 AM

oh and another thing---the fact that he was trolling for hookups? So effing what? The judge doesn't like it--so he's making an example of the guy because he disapproves. This isn't justice--this is garbage. Like I said, there are few people who are as hard core on punishing criminals as I am. But this sort of thing undermines the support for harsh sentences when necessary.

That judge has sentenced the girl, who has some bit of moral responsibility for the situation, to a lot of guilt. Justice would have been having the guy sit in the pokey for a month with all charges dropped.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 10, 2015 12:42:05 AM

The bigger issue than the registrant's age is the "non-punitive" aspect of the sex offender registry. Obviously, the consequences emanating from the registry surpass even the most extreme non-sex offenses parole and probation conditions, which by definition IS punishment. The only way the registry is allowed to exist in the first place is because of its non-punitive, "Price Club application-level inconvenience," and not the devastating, highly punitive consequences that have nothing to do with the judicial sentence itself.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jun 10, 2015 11:40:21 AM

At the glacial pace average Americans discover the horrors of their country's tyrannical justice system -- typically one eviscerated family at a time -- these cruel, puritanical persecutions seem likely to continue without end. Certainly little progress has been made on this front in the centuries since Pilgrims first brought stocks, dunking stools and witch burnings to these shores.

Posted by: John K | Jun 10, 2015 4:21:17 PM

How is Judge Dennis Wiley still a judge. It is quite obvious he is using his personal perception of "morality" as an elevating factor in this case and has been reprimanded for doing so in other cases as well. He is directly responsible for a woman serving 10 days in jail for using profanity in his courtroom (http://www.leaderpub.com/2014/03/27/niles-judge-reprimanded/). Terrible. He should not be a judge.

Posted by: Troy | Jun 11, 2015 1:30:46 PM

Troy. Feel free to file a complaint with the Judicial review board. It is immune as long as it is confidential.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 12, 2015 9:04:07 AM

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