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Sex crime laws sometimes result in disproportionate sentencing

The criminal justice system was intended to provide relatively uniform and proportional responses to various crimes based on their severity and other factors such as the intentions of the alleged criminal. Though most criminal offenders are held accountable by punishments proportional to the infractions they have committed, sex offenders are too often subjected to disparate punishments.

Sex crimes and those who commit them are particularly reviled by the public. Moreover, many sex crimes laws are passed in response to truly horrific incidents. Together, these factors can result in the passage of sex offense legislation that is inconsistent with the aims of the criminal justice system and inconsistent with more reasonable pieces of sex crime legislation. A recent case from here in Wisconsin highlights this issue.

Recently, a 56-year-old Wisconsin man was charged with using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. The man allegedly placed an ad on Craigslist looking to have a sexual liason. Police had set up a sting operation and say that the defendant thought he would be meeting a 15-year-old boy. When he arrived at the agreed-upon meeting place, he was arrested. 

The charge of using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime is considered a Class C felony for which a convicted offender could face a maximum of 25 years in prison and 15 years of supervised release. Second-degree sexual assault is also considered a Class C felony and carries the same potential sentence. 

Here is where things get complicated. In 2012, a law took effect that imposes a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence on anyone convicted of using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. However, the same mandatory minimum does not apply to sexual assault. 

This creates an illogical double standard. If convicted, the defendant would face at least five years in prison for a crime that (in this case) did not actually involve sex with a minor. However, if the man had actually sexually assaulted a minor (and been charged with sexual assault), he may have faced a much lighter sentence than five years in prison.

The defendant's attorney filed a motion to have the charge dropped, arguing that it violates the Constitutional right to equal protection. Unfortunately, a judge denied the motion.

To be clear, there is no debate about the defendant's supposed guilt or innocence. Rather, the dispute stems from the idea that the crime the man is charged with carries a harsher minimum sentence than sexual assault, which is arguably a worse crime in many cases. 

Is this fair or should it be changed? What do readers think?

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee County judge denies man's challenge to sex sting law," Bruce Vielmetti, Nov. 25, 2013

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