Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bill would limit penalty for some sex offenders

By Lauren N. Johnson

Some individuals convicted of criminal sexual abuse would have the chance to avoid being placed on the sex offender registry, under a measure that would give discretion to Illinois courts in certain cases.

House Bill 1139, sponsored by Rep. Robert Pritchard, addresses so-called “Romeo and Juliet” cases, where two teens have sexual contact, and one is under the legal age of consent. The measure, which a House committee approved today, would also allow an offender not more than four years older than the victim to petition to be excluded from the sex offender registry if the victim consented and is at least 14 years old.

“I think the original intent of the registry was to protect children, and I believe it’s gone far and beyond that,” said Tonia Maloney, president of Illinois Voices for Reform.

In Illinois, child sex offenders are prohibited from residing near schools or loitering near school-related facilities that house anyone under 18 years old. They must also register with the state when they change their residence.

“We’re trying to find a way that we can turn this around and let these guys have another shot. Like [Rep. Pritchard] said, they did break the law, but it was consensual,” said Maloney.

Pritchard, a Hinckley Republican, said the bill is for youths who did violate the law of sexual consent and must live with the consequences of their errors. But after they have paid their debt, he said, they should not bear the restrictions meant to protect society from predators

Justin Raxter, a teen convicted of sexual abuse at the age of 18, said he wanted his life back, after his then-15-year-old ex-girlfriend pressed criminal charges. “Ever since then, my life has just been a wreck. It kind of seems like I really don’t have a life anymore.” Raxter said he was dating the girl for over a year, and the couple was having consensual sex.

Raxter, who said he would have to be on the list for 10 years, added, “It doesn’t feel good at all to be compared to somebody who is out there raping little children.” He added, “Even though I only have to register for 10 years, I’ll be considered a sex offender for the rest of my life.”

Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican and former prosecutor, said taking away discretion from the prosecutor in Romeo and Juliet cases may lighten the severity of some crimes or result in inequitable sentences. “A judge in DeKalb County might have a much different view than a judge in Coles County,” Reboletti said.

Pritchard said, “[This bill] is a movement, if you will, that would allow these individuals to regain some semblance of a life and opportunity to deal with their children in school.”

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