Gay man’s statutory rape case raises legal questions

Iredell County man to face plea arrangement in court today

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: November 18, 2013 in News

PART TWO IN A MULTI-PART SERIES

Bradley Olson

Bradley Olson

[Update (Nov. 19, 2013, 1:24 p.m.): Bradley Olson accepted a plea arrangement Monday afternoon in Cabarrus County Court for indecent liberties with a minor and second degree kidnapping. He was sentenced to serve 13-25 months in state prison, plus probation and three decades on the sex offender registry, and immediately remanded to custody. Click here to read the full report from the court proceedings.]

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A gay man initially charged with statutory rape and first degree kidnapping is expected to enter a plea arrangement in Cabarrus County Court today. The details of the case, including the defendant’s allegations that the youth he had a relationship with had fake photo identification, has raised questions, including from one state lawmaker, on the application of the law. qnotes first reported on the case on Oct. 31. This is the second in a multi-part series exploring this case and other issues.

Bradley Olson, 31, of Iredell County, will face reduced charged of indecent liberties with a minor, along with the original first degree kidnapping charge. According to his attorney, the arrangement today will include sentencing of anywhere between 13-25 months in prison and three decades on state’s sex offender registry.

Olson and his attorney claim the case is complicated by several factors. The 15-year-old youth with whom Olson had a relationship allegedly possessed fake photo identification indicating he was 18 years old. They also say the youth was the first to approach Olson on a mobile dating app and allege he has a history of soliciting sexual encounters with older men on online dating websites and hookup apps.

Those are facts, explored in-depth in part one of this series, Olson and his attorney claim are understood by the minor’s family, the District Attorney’s office and law enforcement. qnotes previously reached out to Cabarrus County Assistant District Attorney Ashlie Shanley, who is prosecuting Olson, and spoke to her assistant. The newspaper’s requests for comment were not returned.

There is no concession in the statutory rape law for mistaken age. Olson’s attorney, Justin Olsinski, understands why the law was written as it is — if such a concession existed, everyone ever charged with the crime would simply claim ignorance. But, Olson isn’t happy with the way his case has been handled.

“Because the way the laws are written, I may have to face the punishment, but the punishment is unfair,” Olson says. “[The minor is] getting counseling and I’m going away to prison.”

Olsinski says his client’s case is unique and the current law cannot take into account the full array of the details involved.

“Especially now with the prevalence of [dating] websites and, I think, more or less the over-sexualization of younger high school and middle school young adults,” Olsinski says, “[legislators] haven’t written a statute in a way to prevent people from getting charged like this when the real person who’s out there trolling for sexual encounters and doing all this stuff is lying and giving misinformation and putting so many people at risk of prison time.”

Another criminal defense attorney agrees.

“This is clearly a situation where the law as it stands right now has not kept pace with social reality,” says attorney Charles Oldham. “The way it stands right now, the law still presumes — in fact, it is an irrefutable presumption — that a 15 year old is not capable of consenting to any type of sexual conduct, even if a 15 year old is calculated enough to go out and get a fake I.D. made and go around deliberately soliciting sex from people.”

A minor is legally a victim, Oldham says, but can sometimes also play an integral role in the circumstances leading up to the crime.

“If you really do have an underage person who is running around and deliberately misrepresenting his age in order to get sex from older adults, then that minor is either really manipulative or is mentally troubled in some way,” Oldham says. “I think there should be a way for the law to take account for that and I don’t think the law should necessarily assume that the adult that gets caught up in a situation like that is necessarily a felon and the minor is necessarily an innocent victim. Unfortunately that’s the presumption that the law makes right now.”

Updating the law, Oldham says, “would make people’s lives easier,” adding, “There needs to be some way for the law and the judicial system to take account of extenuating circumstances like you have in this case.”

State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, who represents Cabarrus County, and was a sponsor on 1995 legislation that raised the statutory rape age from 13 to 16, agrees that Olson’s case raises unusual questions.

Hartsell knows there are times when some laws need to be updated. But, keeping up with technology is “hard to do,” he says.

“It’s just a matter of continual review,” Hartsell says. “You have to see where things are at particular points in time. There are some absolutes, but technology has changed a lot of that and you’ve got to be open to understanding the modifications and changes and circumstances of technology.”

Complicating matters is how criminal law is formed. “If you put an ambiguity into the statute then you create more problems sometimes even for defendants,” he says.

When it comes to the prosecution of complicated cases, most questions will fall to the discretion of prosecutors, Hartsell says.

“Unfortunately, the incentive is to charge the most heinous and the easiest to prosecute so that you can work back [to an plea arrangement],” he says. “The problem is an inconsistency among prosecutors in the state in terms of discretion.”

Ultimately, Hartsell says laws are only ever really changed when tough questions are asked — questions like those presented in this case.

“Folks try to keep up, … [but] how do you address that?” he says. “It calls for persistence in pursuing for potential change and the willingness of legislators and prosecutors and others to address the change itself.”

Part three of this multi-part series will examine some of the institutionalized homophobia affecting Olson’s case and, more generally, institutionalized problems affecting the application of sex crimes laws.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:
“Fake I.D. to send gay man to prison for sex offense”