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August 31, 2011

Young Love Gets Help From Law Change

8-31-2011 Texas:

MIDLAND - Imagine being a teen and having to register as a sex offender for life.

All because you and your high school sweetheart decided together to have sex.

Now some changes are being made to a controversial law to keep these kids from being stuck with a label that ruins their lives.

It's called the Romeo and Juliet law, and after Thursday, the law is going to change so officials can focus on tracking down violent sex offenders instead of teens who made a bad decision.

It's a modern take on the Shakespeare classic. Two lovers torn apart, not by their parents but by the law.

"It can be two people that want to have sex with each other but because of their age, the law says that's not permissible," Midland County Asst. D.A., Stephen Stallings, said.

Right now, Texas law says it's illegal if an adult has sex with a minor who's at least three years younger than them.

Once convicted, that person is required to register as a sex offender. But now part of the law is changing but only for couples who have no more than a four year age gap.

"As an example, if you had a 19-year-old girl and she was having sex with a 15 and a half year old boy, that's considered sexual assault," Stallings said. "They're within four years of age, they're more than three years apart so it's still an offense."

But starting September 1st, the person could petition in front of a judge to have their name taken off the sex offender registry.

Stallings said this change is meant to distinguish between sexual predators and teens who simply made a mistake.

"Boys and girls are going to be boys and girls," Stallings said. "They're still wrong, they've still committed an offense but they're not likely to reoffend."

Some in the Tall City think this is a good thing.

"It takes two to tango," Resident, Anthony Tijerina, said. "When you hear pedophile or sex offender, you think 'oh they messed with a little kid.' You can't really judge anybody if you don't know both sides to the story."

"I have a daughter that's in high school and if she's ok with it and it's consensual, I guess I would have to be ok with it too," Resident, Joshua Graham, said. "Kids are far more advanced than we were in high school."

While many agree it's good to focus on the repeat offenders, others think teens should know better.

"When you're older it sounds right, 20 and a 24-year-old but when you're 16, you don't need to be with a 20 year old," Resident, Paige Johnson, said.

However, Stallings said kids will be kids.

"The legislature has come to the conclusion that they shouldn't be in the same category as those folks and I think that's the right thing to do," Stallings said.

Right now, Stallings said it's not clear whether this change will affect young people who have already been convicted and had to register as a sex offender. ..Source.. by Geena Martinez

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