A Michigan judge told a 19-year-old from Indiana that he would reconsider a request for a new trial, months after ordering the teen to register as a sex offender in both states and refrain from using a computer or smartphone because he had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl he met online who claimed she was 17.
Zach Anderson, who spent 75 days in jail after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, went before Berrien County District Judge Dennis Wiley on Wednesday in Niles. Wiley didn’t give a date when he would rule.
Anderson said he was “kind of disappointed” that there wasn’t an immediate decision from the judge, though his father said Wiley told the parties he wanted to review parts of the case.
"We wanted to move on to the next step," Les Anderson said. "He didn't deny the motion, but he didn't make a ruling. We're hopeful it's going to be granted."
Anderson and his attorney, Scott Grabel, want a new judge for the resentencing. Wiley imposed the strict requirements in Anderson’s original sentence for misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct, despite the girl’s mother asking then that the case be dropped and arguing for leniency.
Anderson has to keep at least 1,000 feet from schools and cannot live in a place with Internet access. The computer science classes he wants to take at community college are also out of reach. But he said removing his name from sex offender registries is “the most important part.”
"If I don't get it off, it's going to completely ruin my life," he said Tuesday.
Wiley had admonished Anderson at his original sentencing for how he met the girl on a dating app and what transpired.
"That seems to be part of our culture now," Wiley said, according to a transcript of that hearing. "Meet, have sex, hook up, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever."
Grabel said on Tuesday that if the motion isn’t granted, he would file an appeal quickly with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
"He has no criminal history," Grabel said. "The victim doesn't claim to be a victim and neither does the mother. My goal is to make sure we change this position and get him off the sex offender lists."
Authorities were involved in the case after the girl’s mother called police in December, the night when the teen met Anderson, after she couldn’t find her daughter. The Detroit News reports the girl’s mother blames her daughter, citing the girl’s mental and physical development as playing a role in the encounter.
The age of consent law in Michigan is 16.
Various organizations, including a justice reform group, have said the punishment for Anderson's indiscretion is too strict.
In the meantime, Anderson must be mindful to not violate the terms of his 5-year probation. He has to keep at least 1,000 feet from schools. All computer and Internet use is forbidden, and he can't even hold a smartphone. He faces 25 years on Michigan's sex-offender registry and also would have to register as a sex offender in Indiana once his sentence is completed.
Anderson's attorney wants a new sentence to include provisions under Michigan's Holmes Youthful Training Act, known as HYTA. It applies to first-time offenders, ages 17 to 21, and would keep Anderson's record clean if he stayed out of trouble.
Grabel has said Anderson may withdraw his earlier guilty plea because a county prosecutor violated the deal by opposing use of HYTA as part of the original sentence. Grabel said the prosecutor was supposed to take no position on the matter, and he'd "never seen a more deserving candidate" for HYTA.
"We're attacking the plea agreement that was not adhered to," Grabel said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.