Rep. Cindy Holscher added a mother-of-two-girls voice Friday to expressions of antipathy about a Leavenworth County judge's decision to lower the prison sentence of a man guilty of soliciting sex from teenagers because the girls were "aggressors" in the case.
Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, said no child under the age of consent in Kansas should be shamed by Kansas law when victimized by an adult predator. She proposed a House bill to deny Leavenworth County Judge Michael Gibbens, or any other trial judge, another opportunity to declare teenagers "more an aggressor than a participant" in sex crimes committed by adults.
"Social workers, doctors, teachers, parents and others have voiced concern indicating that 13- and 14-year-olds are far too young to understand the implications of engaging in sexual relations with an adult," Holscher said.
The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee considered but took no action on a pair of bills designed to limit capacity of judges to deviate from standard sentencing guidelines when considering sex crimes committed by an adult and involving juvenile victims.
Holscher's House Bill 2299 says victims of a sex offense, human trafficking or incest under the age of 16 could no longer be considered a participant or aggressor in the criminal conduct when a judged weighed the sentence of an adult offender.
Julie Donelon, president of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, said the practice of labeling children 16 and under as consenting participants in sex crimes against them must come to an end in Kansas. Under current statute, she said, children under 16 couldn't legally consent to sexual activity but could be identified as aggressors in sex crimes against them.
"We see this as a significant and harmful incongruence in the law," Donelon said.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt introduced an alternative, House Bill 2283, to constrain a judge's ability to depart from sentencing guidelines in sexually violent crimes, including electronic solicitation, when the victim was less than 14 and the offender 18 or older. His version would apply to all victims hired to engage in unlawful sexual acts.
Natalie Chalmers, an assistant solicitor general for Kansas, said the attorney general would support either bill, because both had the objective of ending unfair victim-blaming.
"This was most recently seen in the recent Leavenworth County case that made national headlines," she said.
Jessica Glendening, co-chair of the legislative committee of the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the organization opposed the legislation.
She said existing Kansas law allowing a judge to consider role of a teenager was relevant and rarely used. She said both House bills would remove a judge's ability to consider all circumstances of a crime after conviction and prior to sentencing.
Raymond Soden, 67, was found guilty of electronic solicitation of two teenage girls. The prosecutors sought a 13-year sentence, but the judge determined the offense warranted five years and 10 months in prison. Soden was ordered to register as a sex offender after released from prison and remain under post-release supervision for three years.
"The judge's finding in that case, that this departure factor was a substantial and compelling factor, did not excuse the defendant's conduct," Glendening said. "It simply recognized that the role of the victims in the case was one factor that supported a somewhat shortened sentence."