GIRL, 13, CHARGED AS SEX OFFENDER AND VICTIM
Utah Supreme Court justices acknowledged Tuesday that they were struggling to wrap theirminds around the concept that a 13 year old girl could be both an offender and a victim for thesame act, in this case, having consensual sex with her 12 year old boyfriend. The girl wasput in this odd position because she was found guilty of violating a state law that prohibits sexwith someone under age 14. She also was the victim in the case against her boyfriend, who wasfound guilty of the violation by engaging in sexual activity with her.
There were oral arguments on a motion asking the high court to overturn the finding ofdelinquency - the legal term in juvenile court for a conviction - against Z.C., who became pregnantafter she and her boyfriend engaged in sex in October 2003.
State authorities filed delinquency petitions in July 2004, alleging that each had committedsexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony if committed by an adult.
The girl appealed the petition, saying her constitutional right to be treated equally underthe law had been violated.
Her motion noted that for juveniles who are 16 and 17, having sex with others in their ownage group does not qualify as a crime.
Juveniles who are 14 or 15 and have sex with peers can be charged with unlawful conduct witha minor, but the law provides for mitigation when the age difference is less than four years,making the offense a misdemeanor.
For adolescents under 14, though, there are no exceptions or mitigation and they are neverconsidered capable of consenting to sex.
A juvenile court judge denied the motion by Z.C., who then admitted to the offense whilepreserving her right to appeal to a higher court. The boy did not appeal.
The Utah Court of Appeals last December upheld the judge's refusal to dismiss theallegation, saying the law's rigorous protections for younger minors include protecting them foreach other. Z.C. then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
At Tuesday's arguments, Matthew Bates, an assistant Utah attorney general, argued theprosecution of the girl was not unreasonable. He said the statute in question is designed toprevent sex with children who are 13 and younger, even if the other person is in the same agegroup.
By passing that law, legislators were sending a message, Bates said: Sex with or amongchildren is unacceptable.
Randall Richards, the girl's attorney, argued that prosecuting children under a law meant toprotect them is illogical.
A child (victim) cannot also be a perpetrator in the exact same act, Richards said.
The Utah Supreme Court will issue a ruling later.