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Retired judge: Michigan sex offense registry 'like a cancer'

9-8-15 Michigan, Indiana:

Elkhart teenager still awaits new ruling in Berrien County case

On Aug. 5, Berrien County District Judge Dennis Wiley raised Zachery Anderson’s hopes with a promise of a new ruling in his case “soon.”

A month later, Zach Anderson — who at 19 met a Niles girl online who told him she was 17, had sex and later learned she was actually 14 — and his family are still waiting.

A month later, Zach’s story — that of a young man whose punishment has included a jail term, being listed on two sex offender registries for 25 years and subject to long lists of restrictions from two probation departments — continues to spread, most recently the subject of a TV network’s crime show to be broadcast this fall.

But a month later, a former Michigan judge hopes the increased attention and public outrage will spur legislators to take action.

Retired Van Buren County Circuit Court Judge William Buhl has long lobbied his state’s legislators to reform its sex offender registry, ever since he decided during his 36 years as a judge that the registry is ineffective and overly broad.

In the past month, Buhl notes, it’s been big news in Michigan that two Republican legislators, each married to another, carried out an affair and allegedly involved staff members in covering it up. In Michigan, adultery is still a felony, even if rarely prosecuted.

“It is a sad state of affairs,” he says, when the two legislators “suffer no criminal sanctions, as educated, experienced adults, when Zach Anderson, a teenager, is put through hell.”

Buhl says Michigan lawmakers designed their registry years ago to comply with federal regulations that required a listing based on offense types rather than on an offender’s risk to others. Other states, such as New York, did not follow that mandate and still held on to federal funding.

Buhl’s group of attorneys, prosecutors, judges and others even then was “trying to get them not to do stupid things, which they did,” he says. Michigan’s registry now contains the fourth-highest number of offenders in the country.

But even worse, the former judge says, is that legislators keep piling on more restrictions when no evidence suggests those restrictions are effective.

For instance, “research shows juveniles tend not to reoffend,” Buhl says. “Kids just do stupid stuff.”

‘No decision’

Zach was living with his parents in Elkhart when he first encountered the girl on an 18-and-older section of a dating website. They agreed to meet, so he picked the girl up from her Niles home and drove to a playground nearby, where they had sex.

The girl later admitted to telling Zach she was 17. In Indiana and at least 12 other states, a victim lying about her age is a defense against a statutory rape charge, but not in Michigan.The girl and her mother asked that he not be punished.

Michigan has a law to show mercy on certain offenders older than 17 but younger than 21. The Holmes Youthful Trainee Act required that Zach plead guilty to the sex offense and, had the judge agreed to take it into account, likely would have resulted in an expungeable conviction that avoided a listing on the sex offender registry. ..Continued.. by Virginia Black

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