Marie Claire tells the story of Frank Rodriguez, a Texas carpenter who is listed on his state's sex offender registry because he pleaded guilty to "sexual assault of a child." That "child" was his high school girlfriend, Nikki Prescott, who was nearly 16 at the time; today she is his wife and the mother of his two daughters. The state of Texas treated their relationship as a crime, and they have been living with the consequences ever since: Rodriguez had to move out of his parents' home because his 12-year-old sister lived there, and even living in the same house with his wife and daughters was illegal until he completed seven years of probation. His sentence completed, he and his family were still dogged by the stigma of his lifetime registration, which disrupted his education plans, impaired his job prospects, and scared away neighbors. Now he is petitioning for removal from the registry under a new law that loosened the requirements for the state's "Romeo and Juliet" exception:
Texas law…stipulated that the accused had to be within three years of age of his underage sexual partner to avoid registration. Frank is three years and two months older than Nikki. A further element of the law said that the accused could avoid registration if he was under 19 years old and his partner was over 13 years old when they had sex. Nikki was 15. But Frank lost again: He was 19….
Under the new bill, the accused can file a petition if he was within four years of age of his sexual partner and if the partner was at least 15.
Marie Claire found that 34 states require registration of juvenile offenders. In the 23 states that keep a separate count of such offenders, nearly 23,000 are currently listed. While some of them committed actual assaults, many had consensual sex with other teenagers or even played doctor with other children. The magazine reports that "each of the 50 states now has at least one grassroots group dedicated to getting young people—many high school age, but some under the age of 10—off the registry."
As I noted last month, a similar fate could await the 17-year-old boy caught with his hand up the skirt of a 15-year-old girl in Big Bear High School's 2011 yearbook. (As the advocacy group California for Romeo and Juliet Law explains, California is less enlightened than Texas on this score, setting the age of consent at 18 and making no exceptions for consensual teenage sex.) For more on the unfairness and ineffectiveness of sex offender registries, see my July Reason feature story "Perverted Justice."