A Royal Oak woman whose son was imprisoned as a teenager for having consensual sex with his young girlfriend is pleased the state has just altered the law.
The Michigan Legislature last week approved changes to the law — often referred to as the Romeo-Juliet law — so that teens who had consensual sex with minors would no longer be listed on Michigan’s sex offender registry.
“I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it,” said Francie Baldino, who started a support group, Michigan Citizens for Justice, for families in the same situation.
Her son Ken, who has a different last name, has spent nearly six years incarcerated.
Now that both the state House and Senate have approved the changes, the bill is headed to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.
Offenders would not be listed for having consensual sex with partners who were between the ages of 13 and 16, provided the offender was not more than four years older than the victim. The legislation calls for a petition process to allow those young offenders currently on the registry to be taken off if a court determined the sex was consensual. The Michigan bills are aimed at complying with a federal statute.
Baldino said Ken met his girlfriend when he was almost 16 and she was almost 13.
The girl met Ken through mutual friends. Now a mother and in a relationship with another man, she does not wish to comment on the story, Baldino said.
“They just were crazy about each other,” said Baldino.
“They dated about a year and a half and, after he got his driver’s license, spent every minute together.”
Ken lived with his father in Hazel Park at the time. The girl lived with her stepfather.
“Her mother wasn’t in the picture,” said Baldino.
Baldino, who had divorced Ken’s father, said Ken had lived with her for awhile.
“But I was having trouble disciplining him,” she said.
Baldino said her son had the maturity level of a 15-year-old. She also said Ken didn’t tell Baldino the girl’s real age in the beginning.
She believes the two had similar lives, with parents divorced.
Baldino said the girl’s father returned to her life and that he appeared to consent to the two young people being together.
“But once her father figured out they were having issues, arguments and having sex, he decided he did not want my son in the picture anymore.”
When Ken and the girl’s father argued and Ken broke the door to the family’s apartment, the father pressed charges for criminal sexual conduct and destruction of property in 2003.
“My son admitted he and (the girl) were sexually active and was charged with three counts of 3rd Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct because they charge separately for each act that occurred in one instance,” said Baldino.
Ken spent 10 months in jail. Baldino said during that time, the girl wrote him continuously and kept in contact even though he was not to have any contact with her.
Once he was released, he was “distraught, depressed and ordered to stay away from (the girl),” Baldino said.
“He found life unbearable,” Baldino said, and he started seeing her again.
The girl’s father caught the couple together and in 2005, Ken was back in court.
This time the girl testified in court, Baldino said, and she “begged, pleaded and cried for Ken’s freedom and said sex was always consensual and she was in love with my son.
“It was very sad.”
The girl’s father never came to court, said Baldino.
Ken was sentenced to five years in prison for violation of probation and had another criminal sexual conduct charge on his record because he and the girl had sex again.
“I was devastated,” said Baldino.
“He got more time for having sex with his girlfriend than most people get for burglary and other violent crimes.”
Baldino said her son has asked his mother, “Why didn’t I walk away,” she said.
“I told him, ‘You weren’t thinking.’ ”
Baldino said she tried to get the Sex Offender Registry changed for Romeo-Juliet situations.
“I’ve written letters and met with (various representatives),” she said.
“Unfortunately I learned a lot of politicians didn’t want to touch it because it looks like they’re soft on crime.”
Support Group formed
Because Baldino believed the current sex offender laws are not working, last fall she created a support group — Michigan Citizens for Justice — for people affected by the laws.
“This law does not protect all of us as it was supposedly intended to do,” she said.
“It destroys futures and makes it questionable as to who is a threat to society and who isn’t.”
Baldino and the 140 members of her group believe people who are on the list are “automatically labeled as monsters, pooled all together regardless of what their charge was.”
She said people on the list must register anywhere from 10 years, 25 years or life.
Ken, now 25, is awaiting his release date this year, said Baldino.
The main hope Baldino has for Ken is that he would not have to be listed on the Sex Offender Registry.
“My son isn’t saying, ‘This isn’t my fault,’ ” she said.
“He just says, ‘Why do I have to be on the list the rest of my life?’ ”
Once Ken is released, Baldino said the two will meet with an attorney to see what can be done about the registry.
Baldino plans to keep the support group — which meets every two months — together.
“This is a huge, nationwide problem, ruining way too many lives,” she said.
“We’re going to stick together.”
To learn more about Michigan Citizens for Justice, a support group working to reform the current sex offender law and registry. The group also offers support to others whose lives have been affected by this law, working to advance its mission with ideas, information, professional input and education on the law. Visit micitizensforjustice.vpweb.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
A change in the law like this was needed. While young teens having sex might not be a safe or smart idea, its unfair to put them on the same list as real sex offenders. Do you agree with the new law?