Accused have rights, too

Devin Griggs
junior from
Benton, Ky.

We all know the Pledge of Allegiance from reciting it day after day in school. We know about the ongoing debate about the use of “Under God” in the pledge, the Court cases involved, but what we really should be paying attention to is the last stanza of the pledge – “with liberty and justice for all.” What that pledge conveys to us in 2011, however, is something more like, “with liberty and justice for some,” and here’s why.

The American legal system has never been perfect, but recent moves to criminalize free assembly, the federal government cracking down on what you do online and enacting draconian laws controlling private behavior have furthered that imperfection.

While not a single Wall Street executive that helped crash the economy has gone to prison, the average American is held responsible for his or her supposed wrong doing.

There is in particular a perverse, disgusting element of this legal system in the realm of sexual crime. Following the passage of “Megan’s Law,” a nationwide sex offender registry was set up requiring those guilty of sexual misconduct to register as sex offenders and be listed in the public record. This includes people like William Elliot, a 24-year-old murdered in 2009 by a “pedophile hunter” that found his name and address on the sex offender registry. What was Elliot’s crime?

Having consensual sex with his girlfriend when he was 19 and she was 3 weeks away from turning 16, the legal age of consent in his home state of Maine. Depending upon your local laws or ordinances, public urination might qualify you to be put on the sex offender registry, not to mention the scores of teenagers engaging in “sexting” that now are registered sex offenders simply because they sent a nude photo to their boyfriend or girlfriend consensually for private purposes.

In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the age of consent is 16. You are free to have sex with anyone 16 and older, provided that you are not an authority figure (such as a teacher or police officer), but don’t ever think about taking a picture of them in the nude until they turn 18.

That makes you a child pornographer, even if you don’t distribute those pictures and use them only for private purposes, which could get you a prison sentence longer than someone actually convicted of child molestation. Not to mention a ruined reputation and a spot on the sex offender registry for the rest of your natural life. I should also note here that a minor who commits a sexual offense still shows up on the registry past their 18th birthday, a punishment that we do not reserve for any other crime. Say what you will of Elliot or others like him, there is no doubt today that no bridge is too far, no punishment too draconian for those convicted or even suspected of a sexual crime.

Take for example the Department of Education’s adoption of new rules for college campuses for rape. The notion of due process, that you are innocent until proven guilty, is dead and gone if you happen to be a male accused of rape.

All the University has to have is preponderance of evidence (a “feeling” of whether you might or might not have committed the crime) to take legal action against you or expel you from school. Rape is a terrible crime and rapists should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but we should never trample the rights of the accused in the process.

Better a guilty man go free than an innocent man to have his reputation sullied by a false accusation of rape.

I am not calling for us to coddle actual criminals found guilty on good evidence that sexually assault children or rape; I am calling for us simply to reassess a legal system that puts teenagers having consensual sex on a sex offender registry or assumes guilt.

I am calling for us to take a deep look at a legal system that has given the United States more prisoners than Communist China. We need to make good on “liberty and justice for all,” once and for all.