Being accused of a sex crime can result in lifelong consequences, even if a defendant is innocent of the charges or if the alleged crime is minor compared to others. These days, there are many ways for North Dakota residents to meet potential dates or sexual partners, from social media profiles to dating sites and online advertising pages. This can make it easier for real predators to find people to prey upon – but it can also make it possible for someone to make an honest mistake and end up facing charges ranging from sexual misconduct to rape.

A recent case illustrated how this could happen, as well as the serious effects that sex charges can have on a person’s reputation and good standing. A 19-year-old college student met up with a girl he had connected with on an online dating app last December and had sex with her. Only later did he find out the girl was just 14 years old. Despite having no previous criminal history, and the girl and her mother asking the judge for leniency, the man spent 90 days in jail and was sentenced to five years of probation. Additionally, his name will be on the sex offender registry in two states for 25 years.

This young man argued that he had made an innocent mistake in not knowing the girl’s actual age, assuming she was over 18. With a criminal record, he will likely have difficulty completing his education and finding a job. He will also not be allowed to live anywhere near children because of the restrictions the sex offender registry places on those convicted of sex crimes.

It is possible that there are many others like this man currently on sex offender lists who do not deserve to be there. Monitoring low-risk or innocent people may redirect law enforcement resources away from dangerous sexual predators. Many criminal rights advocates believe that changes to the system are in order to protect those facing false accusations or overly harsh sentences.

Source: CNN, “Does youthful mistake merit sex-offender status?” Jill Levenson, Aug. 6, 2015