Sex Offender Registry

Lifetime Sex Offender Registration for 18-Year-Old Who Chatted Online with 15-Year-Old

Actually having sex would just be a misdemeanor.


Taras Bodnar / Dreamstime

New Hampshire's state Supreme Court has upheld a young man's harsh sentence—which includes lifetime registry on the sex offender list—for propositioning a 15-year-old girl over the internet.

The man, Bailey Serpa, was 18 at the time. According to New Hampshire law, Serpa would have been guilty of a mere misdemeanor had the two actually had sex. But online solicitation of a minor is considered a felony.

Serpa appealed the sentence on grounds that it was "unconstitutional and grossly disproportional," The New Hampshire Union Ledger reports. Last month, he lost in court:

The ruling is the latest chapter in a series of cases that have highlighted New Hampshire's computer-facilitated sex law, which critics say is outdated and wielded too freely in cases involving teenagers.

"The laws were enacted to prevent young people from becoming close with old people because there was concern they were using their age to become close, groom them, and convince them they were in love," said Wendy Walsh, a professor and researcher at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center. "You need to have something on the books, but these cases are so complex and are so individual and have so much variation that ideally there would be more context behind some of the laws."

It should be clear that when legislators first criminalized online solicitation of minors in 2008, their intention was to prevent much older people from grooming kids for sex. Teens expressing sexual interest in each other isn't weird or abnormal, and it certainly shouldn't be a crime. If the court won't intervene, then the legislature should hurry up and fix its mistake.

Keep in mind that there's little evidence the sex offender registry helps keep people safe. On the other hand, there's plenty of reason to believe it shatters the lives of the people who end up on it: They face serious difficulty finding housing, securing jobs, and interacting with young people.