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State ex rel ZC

7-17-2007 Utah:

State ex rel ZC
165 P.3d 1206 (2007)
2007 UT 54

¶ 1 When she was thirteen years old, Z.C. engaged in consensual1 sex with a twelve-year-old boy and became pregnant. The state prosecutor chose to file delinquency petitions against both Z.C. and the boy for sexual abuse of a child under Utah Code section 76-5-404.1, a crime that would constitute a second degree felony if committed by an adult. The twelve-year-old boy was adjudicated delinquent and given probation. Z.C. moved to dismiss the delinquency petition filed against her on the grounds that it violated her constitutional rights and that the legislature could not have intended such a result. The juvenile court denied Z.C.'s motion.

¶ 2 Z.C. then entered an admission to the delinquency petition on condition that she be able to appeal the denial of her motion to dismiss. As a result of her admission, the juvenile court adjudicated Z.C. delinquent for sexual abuse of a child but imposed a relatively light punishment. The court ordered her to obey the reasonable requests of her parents, to write an essay regarding her child and the effect of her actions on the child, to have no unsupervised contact with the father of her child, to provide a DNA sample, and to pay a $75 DNA processing fee.

¶ 3 Z.C. appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, which, "with some reluctance," affirmed the juvenile court. State ex rel. Z.C., 2005 UT App 562, ¶ 1, 128 P.3d 561. We granted certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision.

... ... ...

¶ 24 We therefore vacate Z.C.'s adjudication. We stress, however, that our holding is narrowly confined to the application of Utah Code section 76-5-404.1 in situations where no true victim or perpetrator can be identified. Even among children under the age of fourteen, there are unfortunately situations where an older or more physically mature child abuses a younger or smaller child. In cases where there is an identifiable distinction between the perpetrator and the victim, it is manifestly logical to conclude that the legislature intended to include such acts within the scope of Utah Code section 76-5-404.1. In Z.C.'s case, however, where both children were under the age of fourteen and were of similar age, where both children met the intent requirement of the statute, and where there was no evidence of any coercion or force, we conclude that application of the child sex abuse statute produces an absurd result.10

CONCLUSION

¶ 25 Even though the plain language of section 76-5-404.1 allows Z.C. to be adjudicated delinquent for sexual abuse of a child, we conclude that the filing of delinquency petitions against both participants produces an absurd result not intended by the legislature because, like all sexual assault crimes, the statute presupposes a perpetrator and a victim. We therefore hold that the juvenile court erred in denying Z.C.'s motion to dismiss the delinquency petition. We remand this matter to the court of appeals with instructions to remand it to the juvenile court to vacate Z.C.'s delinquency adjudication.



Girl, 13, charged as sex offender and victim

12-26-2006 Utah:

Salt Lake City - Utah Supreme Court justices acknowledged Tuesday that they were struggling to wrap their minds around the concept that a 13-year-old girl could be both an offender and a victim for the same act - in this case, having consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend.

The Ogden, Utah, girl was put in this odd position because she was found guilty of violating a state law that prohibits sex with someone under age 14. She also was the victim in the case against her boyfriend, who was found guilty of the same violation by engaging in sexual activity with her.

"The only thing that comes close to this is dueling," said Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins, noting that two people who take 20 paces and then shoot could each be considered both victim and offender.

And Chief Justice Christine Durham wondered if the state Legislature had intended the "peculiar consequence" that a child would have the simultaneous status of a protected person and an alleged perpetrator under the law.

The comments came in oral arguments on a motion asking the high court to overturn the finding of delinquency - the legal term in juvenile court for a conviction - against Z.C., who became pregnant after she and her boyfriend engaged in sex in October 2003.

State authorities filed delinquency petitions in July 2004, alleging that each had committed sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony if committed by an adult.

The girl appealed the petition, saying her constitutional right to be treated equally under the law had been violated.

Her motion noted that for juveniles who are 16 and 17, having sex with others in their own age group does not qualify as a crime.

Juveniles who are 14 or 15 and have sex with peers can be charged with unlawful conduct with a minor, but the law provides for mitigation when the age difference is less than four years, making the offense a misdemeanor.

For adolescents under 14, though, there are no exceptions or mitigation and they are never considered capable of consenting to sex.

A juvenile court judge denied the motion by Z.C., who then admitted to the offense while preserving her right to appeal to a higher court. The boy did not appeal.

The Utah Court of Appeals last December upheld the judge's refusal to dismiss the allegation, saying the law's "rigorous protections" for younger minors include protecting them for each other. Z.C. then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

At Tuesday's arguments, Matthew Bates, an assistant Utah attorney general, argued the prosecution of the girl was not unreasonable. He said the statute in question is designed to prevent sex with children who are 13 and younger, even if the other person is in the same age group.

By passing that law, legislators were sending a message, Bates said: Sex with or among children is unacceptable.

Randall Richards, the girl's attorney, argued that prosecuting children under a law meant to protect them is illogical.

"A child (victim) cannot also be a perpetrator in the exact same act," Richards said.

The Utah Supreme Court will issue a ruling later. ..more.. by Pamela Manson, The Salt Lake Tribune

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