July 31, 2013

Bill would ease penalty for teen sex

7-31-2013 Guam:

Guam's teens currently face life in prison for getting into sexual relationships. But that could change depending on a piece of legislation currently in the works.

Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, D-Dededo, said a bill to ease penalties for teens in sexual relationships has been drafted and is only a few weeks away from its introduction.

As the law currently stands, the age of consent on Guam is 16, and anyone who is 16 or older and has sex with someone younger than 16 is guilty of sexual assault, regardless of whether the two were in a romantic relationship.

But the proposed bill would reduce penalties for certain teenagers in a sexual relationship with a younger partner.

Rodriguez said it would likely focus on teenagers who are at least 16 years old whose partner is either within an age range of 12 or 24 months.

However, the exact age range and more specifics are still to come, depending on ongoing discussions with members of the island's legal system.

"We have a draft ready," he said. "Now we want to get stakeholders involved."

Differing opinions

That means getting together representatives on both sides of the judicial system -- the Office of the Attorney General and the Public Defender Service Corp. -- to work toward an effective bill.

The two sides, however, have different opinions on what should become law.

Rodriguez said neither side has objected to the actual intent of the law -- keeping sexually active teens from spending life in prison. But prosecutors also don't want to be locked out of trying real predators.

The senator said the Office of the Attorney General has asked Rodriguez to ensure that his bill doesn't tie the hands of its prosecutors.

"If indeed there is criminal intent, they wouldn't have the ability to prosecute," he said.

Rodriguez said prosecutors asked him to explore amending another section of the law which would give the AG's office more "wiggle room" to prosecute wrongdoers.

Teen relationships

Assistant Public Defender Mikaela Henderson partnered with Rodriguez last year to explore amending the law and said yesterday that she still supports amending the law.

"I would like to see a law that reflects the reality of teenage relationships," she said.

Henderson said while "we certainly don't want to encourage it," it's important that Guam's teens aren't locked up for years for having sex.

She said for many teens, it isn't a willful effort to break the law, but ignorance of the law.

"They all think it can't happen to them," she said.

It did happen to a teenager whom Henderson represented.

Harsh consequences

Joseph Quintanilla was arrested in 2011 for having sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend when he was 16.

Although the two were dating at the time, the age difference was enough for him to be charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct. It's an allegation of rape that carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in prison and a lifetime registration on the island's sex offender registry.

At one point, he was prepared to plead guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct and would have faced a lower prison sentence but still have been required to register as a sex offender.

Quintanilla was in and out of court hearings for the next year and a half until he ultimately entered a deferred plea agreement to third-degree criminal sexual conduct. According to the agreement, as long as he follows court conditions, the case will be thrown out after three years.

Rodriguez said at the time that he was happy with the final outcome of the case, saying justice was served in this instance.

Educating teens

Henderson said that, ideally, the issue would operate similarly to the family violence court, which allows offenders to undergo counseling and, in return, have the case thrown out and expunged.

"This is really an opportunity for education," she said.

Henderson said parents should also need to be educated, saying the parents in Quintanilla's case didn't know the relationship was illegal.

Rodriguez and Henderson said the law needs to be changed, noting a major discrepancy between how Guam's teens can be treated compared to more serious cases in the mainland.

They both pointed to the recent rape case from Steubenville, Ohio. A high school girl was raped at a party while incapacitated. Two students, ages 17 and 16 were sentenced to two years and one year in prison, respectively, according to a USA TODAY article.

"Clearly there, there was criminal intent," said the senator.

Henderson agreed, pointing at the difference in the sentences.

"One of the kids is doing a year in juvie," she said. "My kid was going to go to jail for 15 years." ..Source.. by Guampdn.com

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