Legislature holds hearing for CSC bills

Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Sen. Jose "Pedo" Terlaje (PNC photo)

Guam – The Office of the Attorney General and a couple of lawmakers clarified current statutes that pertain to criminal sexual conduct offenses during a public hearing on Monday, April 29. 

A minor facing felony charges as an adult for their role in a willing sexual relationship with another minor less than 4 years their junior is the goal of the partnership between the AG’s Office and Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, with the introduction of Bill 50-35, also known as the “Romeo and Juliet” bill, which specifies criminal penalties of underage sexual activity.

According to current statutes, engaging in sexual penetration with a minor between the ages of 14 and 16 is considered criminal sexual conduct in the third-degree and sentenced as a felony of the second degree. This means it could carry a minimum prison sentence of 3 to 10 years and mandatory listing on the sex offender list.

Bill 50-35 would reduce the charge to a misdemeanor, with a maximum prison term of one year and without the need to register on the sex offender list  if the actor is less than four (4) years older than the victim and does not use force or coercion to accomplish the sexual penetration

A tarnished reputation is what the Speaker wants to avoid. According to assistant attorney general Christine Tenorio, it would address an existing gap in the system. Tenorio, who is also the lead attorney of the sex crimes unit,  added that such a charge for a minor involved in a willing sexual conduct with someone less than 4 years younger would be a permanent part of their record whether or not it is plead down, as she reiterated the intent of the speaker’s first bill.

During the hearing, Attorney General Leevin Camacho also mentioned the unjust severity of the current statutes.

Camacho said  under current laws, a forcible rape is charged the same as having willing sex with a 15-year old; someone who commits manslaughter will face a lesser penalty than a 17-year old having willing sex with 15-year old; someone who gets drunk and drives and kills somebody will be facing a less penalty under the law.

Chief Prosecutor of the AG’s Office, Basil O’Mallan also explains what he called a headache for attorneys.

“Our problem is with the 16-17 year old kids that are still in high school and are dating someone else in high school and a police report would come to us, and we had no choice, we either had to charge it out as a first-degree felony or a second-degree felony and I had no option to send it out to the juvenile division,” O’Mallan said.

The concern is that because these minors are being charged as adults for felonies, it robs the innocent of the resources that the family court can provide. Should Bill 50-35 be enacted, according to Attorney Carol Hinkle-Sanchez, deputy AG of the family division, it would provide civil recourse for the minor and also avoid the likelihood of recidivism.

Muna-Barnes second bill imposes stricter penalties for those who commit CSC against minors and those who become repeat offenders. When the speaker introduced her safety valve bill, she stated previously, children are the most vulnerable victims in the community and deserve the utmost protection and sends a message to these predators that the consequences of their actions will be severe.

Meanwhile, the AG also stood in support of Sen. Jose “Pedo” Terlaje’s Bill 52-35, which addresses mandatory minimum sentences for repeat sexual offenders.

Senators Regine Biscoe Lee and Amanda Shelton co-sponsored all three measures.