(San Francisco, CA – June 9, 2011)—Yesterday, in a unanimous ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court overturned the criminal conviction of a 12-year old boy under the state’s statutory rape law for engaging in intimate conduct with an 11-year-old male friend.
The Ohio law categorically prohibits any sexual conduct with a person under the age of 13, without exception for conduct between two minors. The prosecutor and trial court applied that law to charge one of the two boys with statutory rape—a first degree felony. He was sentenced to indefinite probation, prohibited from any contact with his friend, and ordered to attend counseling and group therapy for sex offenders. If he violated any of these conditions, he could be incarcerated until age 21.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the National Juvenile Defender Center, and the Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in August of 2010 arguing that it was unconstitutional to apply the Ohio law to a child under 13—a member of the very class the law was designed to protect. The brief argued that giving prosecutors discretion to bring such charges against either participant was unfair and could be used to target youth who are perceived as gay. The brief also argued that the consequences of a conviction as a sex offender for a child are severely disproportionate, including the fact that the conviction can never be expunged from the child’s juvenile record and that the child would have to register as a sex offender if he moved to some other states. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed that the law was unconstitutional as applied to any child under 13, and reversed his conviction.
Statement from NCLR Youth Project Director Jody Marksamer:
“The law should protect young people, not punish them arbitrarily. While only a few states still explicitly discriminate against young people depending on whether they engage in same-sex or different-sex activity, many young people who are gay or seen as gay are regularly targeted for prosecution and harsh sentences. By failing to distinguish between underage offenders and victims, Ohio’s law was wide open to abuse and selective enforcement against minors who are perceived as gay. This ruling makes it clear that laws that give prosecutors unbridled discretion to charge young people as sex offenders violate the most basic requirements of due process and equal protection under the Constitution.”