by Joshua Rhett Miller, New York Post
A 14-YEAR-OLD boy may be labelled as a sex offender for life after being arrested for having sex with his 12-year-old girlfriend - a "really sick" possibility, according to his family.
The unidentified seventh-grader has been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child in Harris County, Texas, despite a law that exempts some teens from being classified as sex offenders for having consensual sex with someone within three years of their age.
For instance, the so-called "Romeo and Juliet" law allows a 17-year-old to legally have sex with a 14-year-old. But that rule doesn't apply if one of the parties is under 14 years of age, the Houston Chronicle reports.
"He had consensual sex with his little girlfriend and he loved her," the teen's mother told the newspaper. "And because he turned 14, they want to make him a sex offender, put him on the registry with paedophiles and child molesters - really sick and dangerous people."
The boy's lawyer said his client wouldn't be facing charges and the possibility of registering as a sex offender had the teens been the same age, and he would be seen as the victim under the letter of the law if the other person was 18 or older.
"It defeats the whole purpose of the Romeo and Juliet defence where you have two people relatively close in age and maturity," said the boy's lawyer, Joseph Gutheinz.
"You would think the law would be more sympathetic as you go younger, because both parties are immature."
Attorneys in Texas said charges filed in connection to a consensual sexual relationship between minors aren't rare in Harris County.
"I had that exact fact pattern that I fought for a year," said Jackie Stewart Gravois, an lawyer for the Harris County Public Defender's Office. "They ended up dismissing it because, ultimately, everyone agreed it was a consensual act."
Prosecutors in that case were assured there was no violence or threat of force between the students, who were also in junior high at the time, Gravois said. She said similar cases have seemingly been on the rise lately.
"Usually, if the prosecutors can prove that it was consensual and it was not forced in any way, they typically don't file these cases or they end up dismissing them," she said. "That's going to be up to the discretion of the prosecutor."
The Harris County District Attorney's Office did not return calls for comment, the Chronicle reported.
But juvenile judges in Harris County "very rarely" order teens to register as a sex offender, Gravois said.
"They usually delay it and send them to sex offender treatment and then make a decision," she told the newspaper.
Another lawyer for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which wants to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Texas, said he's aware of several Houston teens facing criminal charges for having sex with tweens.
"That's the arbitrary nature of our sexual offence laws," lawyer Jay Jenkins said. "There's very little rationality to those laws."
The teen's mother, meanwhile, said her family is "going through hell" as the case unfolds.
"Because he was 14 by two months, they want to ruin his life," she told the Chronicle. "What kind of life is he going to have if he's a sex offender?"
This article originally appeared on The New York Post.