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Sex-crime statutes under fire

A lawyer representing a 29-year-old man charged with having “carnal knowledge” of a minor contends that the law discriminates on the basis of age.

The statute, Virginia Code Sect. 18.2-63, provides for different penalties for defendants of different ages. Defendants who are less than three years older than the accusing witness may be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor; defendants three or more years older, however, may be guilty of a Class 6 felony.

“My position on it is that the penalty for the act shouldn’t be different for defendants of different ages, said Joseph A. Sanzone of Lynchburg.

“Under Virginia law, if you’re close in age to the accusing witness, you have less of a penalty,” Sanzone said. “If you’re older, it can be a felony.”

Sanzone’s client, a Lynchburg man, was charged with having carnal knowledge of a child between 13 and 15. According to the prosecutor, the man had sex with a 14-year-old girl at his home on May 16, 2002, and again on June 1, 2002.

On the morning of Aug. 7, Sanzone defended his client in a bench trial before Lynchburg Circuit Judge Mosby G. Perrow III. Perrow has not ruled in the case; instead, he has set a hearing for early October to consider a number of issues, including Sanzone’s claim that the statute’s penalty scheme is discriminatory.

“We decided he’s not going to make a decision now,” Sanzone said. “The judge is trying to decide what to do.”

Sanzone contended that Sect. 18.2-63′s treatment of different defendants is barred in other areas of the law.

For example, said Sanzone, “We can’t have age-discriminatory rules in the workplace.

“I don’t think you should be able to have of penalties for people of one age and another set for people of another age.”

The prosecutor in the case declined comment, so Sanzone was asked: What about the notion that the statute calls for a harsher penalty for older defendants to deter sexual predators? And at the same time, shouldn’t we go easier on a 15-year-old boy than a 29-year-old man?

“It seems that you’re better off allowing a judge a wide range of penalties and letting the judge decide, rather than narrowing the judge’s authority,” Sanzone said. “If you want the judge to be able to hand out a stiff sentence, then you prescribe a wide range of punishments and let the judge decide.”

Sanzone said he was unaware of any similar challenge to the law. And he acknowledged that his challenge might not be addressed because there is a chance his client might be found not guilty.

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