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Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to a Bill to Decrease Sentences for Non-Violent Sex Between Teens

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Jackie Yamanaka
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The Montana Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that seeks to give judges and prosecutors more discretion in sentencing cases that involve sexual relations between teenagers.

But opponents worried Senate Bill 26 will cause people to think the age of consent is lowered from 16- to 14-years old. That’s because this bill recognizes sexual relations between those aged 14-and-18.

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Credit Legislative Services
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Senator Jedediah Hinkle is concerned 14-year olds are more vulnerable to persuasion. “And I don’t know how many of these cases happen where that’s the case,” he said. “Maybe it isn’t love but maybe it is just a vulnerability to be persuaded to have a sexual relationship.”

Hinkle said even though Senate Bill 26 seeks to amend the law only for sentencing, he still thinks it creates inconsistency.

Senator Nels Swandal said the law on the age of consent remains intact. Before he was elected to the Senate, he served as a state District Judge for Park County. He said these cases are not new to judges.

“I’ve found that these high school romances happen often,” he said.
“And any father doesn’t want to think of their 13-, 14-, 15-year old daughters having sex. It happens all the time.”

He added this bill is not about an adult perpetrator or a pedophile.

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“But it does recognize high school Romeo and Juliet romances,” said Swandal. “Maybe we should treat those a little bit differently than the ones that are by force or that we have some 28- or 29-year old and a 14-year old. It just makes sense in this world.”

What this bill seeks to do is give judges the discretion to provide a lower sentence or fine.

More importantly said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Sue Malek, it would also give the judge the ability to keep the individual off of the sexual and violent offender registry.
 

“The bill does not absolve the 18-year old from their responsibilities to recognize the vulnerability of 14-year old,” she said. “By not requiring registration on the sexual or violent offender registry we give the 18-year old a chance to go back to school, to find a job, and a place to live without being labeled a sex offender on the sexual or violent offender registry.”

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Credit Legislative Services
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Senate Bill 26 passed on a preliminary 36-to-12 vote. If it passes a third and final vote in the Senate, it goes to the House for consideration.