There’s a new Michigan law that says that students convicted of criminal sexual conduct can’t continue to go to the same school as their victim. Sounds good, right? Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob everybody-wants-me-to-be-a-judge Cooney quickly grandstanded to the local media that he thinks it’s a great law.
One catch – prosecutors have an easy, peasy runaround to the law if they want it.
The law says that students convicted of a sexual offense may not attend the same school as their offender. The law doesn’t say anything about what happens when a student commits a sexual offense but pleads guilty to a lesser offense like assault and battery. Some say Cooney is too lenient when it comes to plea deals, especially when the in-crowd is involved. Just plead the student to a non-sexual offense, and they’ll be sitting right next to the offender in Biology come Monday morning.
Maybe prosecutors will be more likely to offer plea deals that they wouldn’t have offered in the past before the law, because offenders aren’t going to want to change schools. Or, the prosecutor can just not charge the crime at all. And we can have perfect statistics that these crimes don’t happen in Grand Traverse County.
Opposite problems can also arise – what if they overcharge someone with the hope of coercing a plea to a lesser offense because the person accused doesn’t want to go to trial and risk having to change schools?
The law really isn’t effective unless it’s combined with something else to ensure that law enforcement and the prosecutor don’t take measures to circumvent its intended effect. Also, what if the school completely ignores the law and allows the offender to continue to attend? What does the victim do then?
When he spoke to the media, Cooney said that there have been 16 criminal sexual conduct cases involving minor offenders in Grand Traverse County. He included any offender 18 and under even though 17 is the age of adult criminal responsibility in Michigan. So here’s the questions the media didn’t ask — Is that total reports received, or the number that the prosecutor’s office charged? How many did you review but not charge? Did you decline any criminal sexual conduct charges that involved a student offender? If so, why? How many were reported at the schools but not turned into official police reports? Of the 16, how many offenders were even attending school at the time of the offense? Without more information, we don’t know whether Cooney is serious about taking criminal sexual conduct cases seriously when they involve student offenders.
But hey, Cooney got another chance to be in the press ahead of November’s election.