Tuesday, August 4, 2015

19 Year Old Zach Anderson of Indiana Who was Convicted in Michigan and Mandated to Register as a Sex Offender for the Next 25 Years has Become the "Poster Child" of Why the Sex Offender Laws and Public Registries in the U.S. Need Serious Reform


CBS This Morning Video: Indiana family fights to overturn teen sex offender ruling, August 5, 2015
Zach Anderson, 19, goes before a judge Wednesday, fighting to save his future. He was convicted in April of having consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl. But she told him she was 17. Despite that admission, the judge put Anderson on the sex offender's registry until April 2040. CBS News legal expert Rikki Klieman, a former sex crimes prosecutor, joins “CBS This Morning” to discuss the case.

Original Post:

I have previously posted articles and interviews with Zach’s parents Less and Amanda including a recent ABC Nightline interview that followed Zach’s released from jail.  

Zach is the one that met a girl online who claimed to be 17 years old, they had consensual sex and then he finds out she was really 14 years old after the fact. For the next 25 years Zach will be a Registered Sex Offender, he can not live at his parents home because of residency restrictions and he can not pursue his college education for a degree in  Computer Programming/Design because he’s banned from having Internet access. 

There has also been 2 radio talk shows (that I posted) on Sex Offender Registries and the need for reform, ALL because Zach’s case has people talking and questioning how this could happen. 

Today there are two more articles on Zach’s story (see below) that I wanted to be sure to post. 

I am so pleased that not only his parents have been outspoken about the problems with Sex Offender Registries but now Zach is advocating too. So many times the parents or the spouse of a Registrant speak up and lobby for change but the Registrant can not bring themselves to stand up in front of lawmakers and reporters to advocate not just for themselves but for others. It’s take serious courage to advocate for Sex Offender Reform and the Andersons are doing a great job! 

Yes their main goal is to get Zach’s conviction overturned and removed from the Sex Offender Registry but this experience has opened their eyes to the current problems within our justice system, legislative system and the punishment of naming and shaming. 

Until you or someone you know or love is directly affected by this madness you have no idea how bad it is. 

If other families and Registrants across America did what the Andersons have been doing we would see positive reform occurring in every state.  

If you don’t speak up and speak out then the status quo remains the same. Broken, cruel and punitive.

Sometimes the VERY worst thing ever can turn into a positive mission, that’s how I became an advocate on this polarizing platform. 

We all need time to sit on the “pity-pot” but are you going to spend the rest of your life on it or are you going to take your new knowledge and experience and do something positive with it? 

Mary Devoy

1- How a dating app hookup landed a teen on the sex offender registry, August 4, 2015
By Kyra Phillips and David Fitzpatrick

Zach Anderson is 19 and a typical teenager. He's into computers and wants to build a career around his love for electronics. 

But those plans and any semblance of a normal life are for now out the window. Under court order, he can't access the Internet, go to a mall or linger near a school or playground. His parents say because he has a 15-year-old brother, he can't even live at home any longer.

Why? He's been placed on the sex offender registry after a dating app hookup. 

It began, Zach and his family say, when he went on a racy dating app called "Hot Or Not."

He was at his home in Elkhart, Indiana, when he met the girl, who lived across the state line in nearby southern Michigan. 

The girl told Zach she was 17, but she lied. She was only 14, and by having sex with her, Zach was committing a crime. He was arrested and convicted.  

He was given a 90-day jail sentence, five years probation and placed on both Indiana and Michigan's sex offender registry for the next 25 years. A colossal mistake, say his parents.

"It's a blatant lie," his father, Lester Anderson says. Amanda Anderson, his mother, says "it doesn't even fit our lifestyle; it doesn't fit how we raised our kids." Zach says his parents had always told him not to have sex before marriage.  

'I want to be in trouble and not you'

Both the girl's mother and the girl herself appeared in court, to say they didn't believe Zach belonged on the sex offender registry. The girl admitted lying and outside of court, she handed the Anderson family a letter. She wrote in part, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you my age. It kills me every day, knowing you are going through hell and I'm not. I want to be in trouble and not you." 

But even if the sex was consensual and even if the girl did lie about her age, it is not a defense under current sex offender laws.

In fact, Judge Dennis Wiley, who sentenced Zach, said he was angry that Zach had used the Internet to meet a girl. 

"That seems to be part of our culture now," he said, according to a transcript. "Meet, have sex, hook up, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever,"

A former judge in a nearby town says the sex offender registry has to be changed. Especially for cases like Zach's.

"If we caught every teenager that violated our current law," says former Judge William Buhl, "we'd lock up 30 or 40 percent of the high school. We're kidding ourselves." 

Everyone on the same list

Buhl says the problem is that the registry is a one-size-fits-all list that treats everyone as if they pose the same threat, whether they are a predatory child molester or a teen who had sex with his girlfriend. 

In a highly critical study of the sex offender registry in 2013, Human Rights Watch says there is "no evidence" that placing teens on the sex offender registries make communities safer.  

Even convicted sex offenders, the very people the registry was set up to monitor, say their type of criminal behavior and mindset is vastly different from some of these teens. 

Ted Rodarm, who served prison time for molestation, says teens such as Zach don't belong on the same registry as sex offenders like him. Rodarm, who is now a part of a ministry for sex offenders, adds "the registry has become so diluted that you can't identify the truly dangerous, and that in itself is dangerous." 

Buhl, who says he has presided over dozens of sex offender cases, agrees that the states are wasting resources on people who are unlikely to re-offend. He says one solution would be to have a risk assessment registry, in which offenders are assessed in terms of their threat to society. But he believes change is unlikely, because few lawmakers would be willing to back a provision that lessens the severity of sex crime laws.  

As for Zach, he's awaiting another court hearing in which his attorney will try to mitigate his sentence.  

There's no telling, of course, whether that will be successful.


2- Teen out of jail, but stays on sex offender registry, August 4, 2015
By Francis Donnelly

Locked up for 73 days, teen Zach Anderson walked out of the Berrien County Jail last month and received an ominous message from his probation officer: The tough part was just beginning. 

His probation imposed 61 restrictions. No Internet access for five years. An 8 p.m. curfew. He can’t go to restaurants that serve alcohol. 

Worst of all, he’s on the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry for 25 years, a scarlet letter that will make it hard for the 19-year-old to find a job or a place to live.

His crime was having sex with an underage teen. 

Anderson of Elkhart drove just across the Indiana-Michigan border and hooked up with a 14-year-old Niles girl who he says told him she was 17. The age of consent in Michigan is 16. 

“It’s crazy,” said Anderson. “They make me out to be a monster.”

As a first-time offender younger than 21, he was eligible for a program that would have softened the punishment. But a judge rejected it.

Anderson will try to withdraw his guilty plea Wednesday in Berrien County District Court. 

His quest has drawn support from around the country, including the mother of the girl, and raised questions about whether sex registries should be focused more on protecting victims than punishing offenders. 

An online petition asking the judge to reconsider has received 156,000 signatures. Several newspapers have written editorials supporting Anderson. A national justice reform group is rallying behind him. 

Reform Sex Offender Laws, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said sex registries have become bloated with teens like Anderson, and fail to distinguish between them and bigger threats, such as pedophiles. 

Michigan has the fourth-highest number of people on its registry, 43,000, behind California, Texas and Florida, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids. Each state can set its own rules for who qualifies for the registry. 

“This case is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Bill Dobbs, a member of the reform group. “This 21st century scarlet letter needs more than fixing. It needs to be abolished.” 

But a lawmaker who has helped write some of Michigan’s sex registry laws has little sympathy for Anderson.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said Anderson was old enough to know better.

“A 19-year-old knows you have to be careful,” he said. 

Before everything turned upside down, Anderson led a tranquil life. 

Working as an auto shop technician, he lived with his parents along an inlet of the St. Joseph River. The second oldest of four boys, he liked to play computer games and make skateboarding videos. 

Like many teen boys, he met girls through dating websites and apps like Hot or Not. 

In December, he was flirting with the Niles girl on Hot or Not when he asked how old she was, he said in a recent interview. She said 17, he said. 

After encouraging her to take intimate photos of herself, he suggested they get together. 

Two days after they met online, Anderson drove 20 miles and picked the girl up around the corner from her home, he said. 

“On the night it happened, I had a gut feeling that I shouldn’t be doing this,” he later wrote in a letter of apology to the girl. “If I would have trusted my conscience, none of this would have happened.” 

The teens bought condoms at Lucky 7 Food Mart and drove down a gravel road to a small, secluded playground at Niles Westside Seventh-day Adventist Church. They were six blocks from the the girl’s home. 

Meanwhile, the girl’s mother was in a panic. The Detroit News is not naming the girl or her mother because the child is a minor. 

Her daughter had been gone for several hours and missed her dinnertime dosage of medicine for epilepsy, the woman said. 

The girl, who didn’t have a phone, had told her older sister she was meeting Anderson, the mother said. The family tried to reach him through Skype but didn’t get a response. 

She called 911. Shortly after a sheriff’s deputy arrived, so did her daughter. 

And the whole saga nearly ended right there. 

But the deputy had spotted Anderson’s user name, “Zach Guy,” on the girl’s computer, piquing his interest, her mother said. 

The Berrien County’s Sheriff’s Office had been looking into a number of cases where someone named Zach was contacting underage girls. 

Two deputies returned to the home later that night and pressed the girl for details of what happened, her mother said. 

A subsequent investigation found Anderson had nothing to do with the other cases. 

But his dalliance with the girl led to a misdemeanor charge of criminal sexual conduct. 

The girl’s mother never wanted Anderson arrested. 

She tearfully beseeched authorities to drop the charge, she said. She blamed her daughter for the tryst, saying she was acting out because of her epilepsy. 

When Anderson was sentenced, she asked the judge to be lenient, citing her daughter’s mental and physical development as factors in the incident. 

Under Michigan law, a person is placed on the sex offender registry for consensual teen sex if the age difference is more than four years. 

But the state Holmes Youthful Trainee Act allows first-time offenders to avoid the registry and have their convictions erased after serving probation. 

During the sentencing, Anderson’s attorney said his client was a victim of the culture, that dating websites and apps made it difficult to determine the age of the person you’re going to meet. 

Berrien County District Judge Dennis Wiley seized upon the same culture in doling out his punishment. 

“You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women to meet and have sex with,” he told Anderson. “That seems to be part of our culture now — meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.” 

Wiley, 67, said meeting someone online is dangerous because it’s easy for bad people to hide their identities. 

He sentenced Anderson to three months in jail, five years of probation and 25 years on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry, which, because of his residence, was transferred to the Indiana registry. 

Anderson is luckier than most people on the sex offender registry. 

After leaving jail on July 9, Anderson began working at his father’s print shop. 

He couldn’t return home because his parents live within 1,000 feet of a public boat launch, which is prohibited by the registry. 

But his parents bought a $51,000 house a block behind the shop, named Sign of the Times. 

The Andersons have paid $31,000 so far in lawyer fees, court expenses and a down payment on the home.

“He has a mountain to climb,” said Anderson’s father, Les. “He’s free, but he’s not really free.” 

If Zach wants to live or work somewhere else, his options are limited. He can’t live or work within 1,000 feet of a school, and will have to overcome the stigma of being on the registry to convince an employer or landlord to accept him. 

Even if he found another job or home, he could lose them if others learn about his past and mount pressure to get rid of him. 

“It affects everything you do,” he said. 

The public registry gives his conviction, name, photo, physical description and addresses of his home and job. 

What it doesn’t give are details of the crime. Little distinguishes him from pedophiles on the list. 

It didn’t take long for his new reality to sink in. 

Three days after Zach left jail, Les Anderson could tell something was bothering his son. When he asked what was wrong, Zach began to cry.

“I don’t know who I can talk to,” he told his dad. “I don’t know whose hands I can shake.”

To his supporters, Anderson — a pariah at 19 — has traded one jail for another