Law needs toughening - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Law needs toughening

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Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2003 1:50 am | Updated: 1:00 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

You might think the justice system, which has processed far too many cases of adults having sex with children, would make an example of Benjamin LeMere, the former Higley High School teacher who impregnated a 15-year-old student.

But you'd be wrong.

Weeks after prosecutors bungled a plea bargain that included no prison time for LeMere, Superior Court Judge Linda Akers correctly rejected the deal, but then tapped the creep on the wrist with a measly three-month sentence.

LeMere faces other consequences, to be sure. He's lost his teaching license, must register as a sex offender and will be on lifetime probation. If he reoffends, and gets caught, he could have to serve more time.

The problem is that a 27-year-old teacher having sex with a 15-year-old student ought to be serving serious prison time upfront.

Judge Akers and prosecutors are not entirely at fault for this travesty. The statute carries a maximum sentence of only two years. If LeMere had been tried and convicted under the current statute, he could have been sentenced to the maximum two years, but once out he would have faced no lifetime supervision.

A longer sentence would make teachers, priests and others in positions of authority over young people think twice if tempted to violate the trust that is placed in them.

The Legislature needs to recraft the law not only to beef up penalties for offenders like LeMere, but to differentiate between predatory teachers and high school sweethearts who happen to be on opposite sides of the age-of-consent line. In addition, the Legislature should make it a serious crime, with a hefty mandatory minimum sentence, for any teacher, up through high school, to have sexual contact with a student.

Our children need and deserve better protection than the current law provides.

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