Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ricky's Story

Ricky and Amanda met at an Iowa teen club on a Saturday night in December of 2005. Ricky was 16 and Amanda told him she was nearly the same age. They got to talking, learned they were from the same town outside the area and hit it off. They started dating and had sex on two occasions, definitely not the right thing for kids that age to do, but not uncommon. It ended when Amanda told Ricky's mother she was only 14 and asked her not to reveal this to Ricky. Actually, she was 13.
Several months later Amanda ran away from home. At the urging of the friend she was staying with, she contacted the police and told them she was afraid to go home. The police picked her up and took her home.
Ricky was questioned by police and acknowledged that he did have sex with Amanda on two occasions but that this ended when he learned that Amanda had deceived him about her age. Ricky and his mother met with Amanda's parents to discuss the situation. Given the circumstances, Amanda's parents weren't interested in pressing charges. But the District Attorney had different ideas. On May 3 Ricky, now 17, was arrested, charged with two felony counts of third degree sexual abuse and found himself in jail.
The public defender that represented Ricky made it clear that going to trial could very well result in a 20 year prison term for the sexual abuse felonies he was charged with. Ricky was advised that if he pled guilty to one count of lewd or lascivious acts with a child, there would be a deferred judgment, he would not have to state a felony conviction on job applications and he would not have to register as a sex offender. But minutes before the plea hearing, Ricky was informed that the laws in Iowa had just changed and that the plea deal would include the requirement that he be registered as a sex offender for a period of 10 years. He wept at this devastating news but decided to take the plea deal anyway to avoid the possibility of a long prison term. A deferred judgment was issued on the charge of lewd or lascivious acts with a child and Ricky was sentenced to two years probation and was registered as a sex offender.
Ricky's family left Iowa and returned to Oklahoma where they had previously lived. Because of the three year age difference between Ricky and Amanda, Oklahoma law required that Ricky register as an aggravated lifetime sex offender. Shortly thereafter, in response to federal incentives created by the Adam Walsh Act, Oklahoma adopted a law requiring Ricky to be registered for life with tier 3 predator status, which is reserved for the most dangerous sex offenders. When the Oklahoma authorities became aware of Ricky's sex offender status, he was removed from high school. He's prohibited from being in the presence of children other than his younger brother. He can't go near schools, day care centers or parks. His brother, age 11, can't bring friends into their home. (If his brother had been a girl, Ricky would have been removed from his home.) His social life has been destroyed. He's been ostracized, taunted, harassed and videotaped by neighbors and members of his community. He flees when spoken to by girls his age. His identity has been devastated. He's lost his sense of security, his expectations for any kind of normal life and his ability to trust.
Prior to this tragic series of events, Ricky had planned to join the Navy and ultimately to pursue a career in law enforcement. With the assistance of an Oklahoma legislator, he was given the opportunity to earn his GED. His life now consists of studying online at home for a college degree and caring for his mother who has recently lost all of her vision. Despite the obvious obstacles, Ricky now hopes to someday become an Attorney.
Lawmakers have taken a "get tough" stand on sex offenses. The resulting polices have had serious unintended consequences. We as a society feel very strongly about protecting our children from sexual predators, and we should. But when this public zeal crates political incentives to enact policies that create the kind of tragedy we see in Ricky's life, we are reminded that popular outrage is not a reasonable foundation for sound and effective legislation. We as citizens of this nation must look more deeply at the complete set of implications that go along with legislation, considering not only the strength and toughness of the laws we adopt, but the justice that will or will not result when these laws are applied to the real situations that occur in our society. Society pays a price when we recklessly overreach in creating tough laws on hot button issues. Most of us pay none of it, but bask in the sense of security it brings. The price is paid by a small minority, in denominations of human lives. There isn't a single politician who's worried about losing the votes of people like Ricky and his family. When the broader community fails to rise up against such injustices, we ensure that they will persist. In this democracy it is we, the people, who are ultimately accountable.
Please consider signing the petition below. It is a call for legislative action to change the laws that have done such great harm to Ricky and others like him. When we unite in encouraging our legislators to act responsibly to correct these injustices, we pay the just price for our freedom.
Please also share this petition by email with 10 or more people. THIS IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN SIGNING IT. If each of us shares it with enough people to get more than one person to sign it, it will sweep the nation.

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