An Indiana 19-year-old is seeking a new sentence after being ordered to register as a sex offender in two states and refrain from having a computer or smartphone, or living in a place with Internet access, because he had consensual sex with a 14-year-old Michigan girl he met online who said she was 17.
Zach Anderson of Elkhart, who spent 75 days in jail after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, went before the same judge Wednesday seeking to be resentenced. Even the girl's mother has asked that the case be dropped and argued for leniency.
Anderson has to keep at least 1,000 feet from schools. Computer and Internet use is forbidden. The computer science classes he wants to take at community college are also out of reach. But he said getting his name removed from the sex-offender registries, where it would stay for decades, is “the most important part.”
“If I don’t get it off, it’s going to completely ruin my life,” he told The Associated Press, speaking via the landline at his father’s print shop in Elkhart, where he works.
The hearing in Berrien County, Michigan, asked that a new judge rule on Anderson’s sentence for misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct. It came five months after a scolding from District Judge Dennis Wiley, who admonished Anderson for how he met the girl on a dating app and what transpired.
“That seems to be part of our culture now,” Wiley said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “Meet, have sex, hook up, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.”
Convincing Wiley to allow a redo on the sentence by another judge may be difficult. Anderson’s attorney, Scott Grabel, said if the motion is not granted, he would file an appeal quickly with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
“He has no criminal history,” Grabel said of Anderson. “The victim doesn't claim to be a victim and neither does the mother. My goal is to make sure we change this position and get him off the sex offender lists.”
Authorities became involved in the case after the girl’s mother called police in December, the night of the teen’s meeting with Anderson, when she could not find her daughter. The AP is not naming the girl or her parents because she is underage. Michigan’s age of consent is 16. The girl’s mother blames her daughter, citing the girl’s mental and physical development as playing a role in the encounter, according to The Detroit News.
Various organizations, including a justice reform group, have said Anderson’s punishment is too strict.
In the meantime, Anderson must be mindful to not violate the terms of his five-year probation. He has to keep at least 1,000 feet from schools. All computer and Internet use is forbidden, and he can’t even hold a smartphone. He faces 25 years on Michigan’s sex-offender registry and also would have to register as a sex offender in Indiana once his sentence is completed.
Anderson’s attorney wants a new sentence to include provisions under Michigan’s Holmes Youthful Training Act, known as HYTA. It applies to first-time offenders, ages 17 to 21, and would keep Anderson's record clean if he stayed out of trouble.
Grabel said Anderson may withdraw his earlier guilty plea because a county prosecutor violated the deal by opposing use of HYTA as part of the original sentence. Grabel said the prosecutor was supposed to take no position on the matter, and he'd “never seen a more deserving candidate” for HYTA.
“We're attacking the plea agreement that was not adhered to,” Grabel said.
Assistant Berrien County Prosecuting Attorney Jerry Vigansky didn't return a message left Tuesday seeking comment.