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Kansas panel rejects bill on 'child aggressors' spurred by Leavenworth judge

Posted: 11:23 AM, Feb 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-26 13:19:49-05
Judge Michael Gibbens

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee rejected a proposed law that sought to prevent judges from reducing sentences if they believe that victims under the age of 14 were willing participants in sex crimes.

The bill was proposed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt after Leavenworth County District Judge Michael Gibbens sentenced a 67-year-old man in December to less than six years in prison for soliciting a 13-year-old on Facebook. The judge said the victim and another young girl were "more aggressor than a participant" in the case.

After the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee heard details of the case Monday, committee members said the legislation was well-intentioned but they argued judges must have discretion in sentencing for such cases. A voice vote to table the bill appeared to be unanimous, The Wichita Eagle reported.

"I don't like calling a sex victim, be it male or female, an aggressor," said Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City, but he said that is the reality in some situations.

When he introduced the bill, Schmidt said "no matter the child's behavior, child victims are not responsible for the criminal conduct of adults who commit sex crimes against them."

Gibbens sentenced Raymond Soden, of Leavenworth, in December to five years and 10 months in prison for soliciting sex from teens online, which is eight years less than required by Kansas sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors had sought more than 13 years behind bars because Soden had prior convictions. Soden admitted in his plea that he knew one of the girls was 13 when he began exchanging messages with her online.

During the sentencing, Gibbens said the 13- and 14-year-old girls Soden had sex with were "more an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct." He said he was already "pretty familiar" with the girls and he believed it was possible they set Soden up to be robbed.

He noted the girls went to Soden's house voluntarily and took money in exchange for sexual favors. They also didn't appear to testify at Soden's sentencing, which Gibbens said made him believe they didn't suffer the typical harm in such cases.

Schmidt's bill would have eliminated the judge's finding of who was the aggressor as a factor in sentencing in sex crimes when the victim is younger than 14 and the offender is an adult. It also would take away judges' ability to find the victims were "participants" in the conduct.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said the judge made a difficult decision in a "terrible, terrible situation."

"I think we have to trust judges. I think we have to give them some level of discretion," Carmichael said.

After the vote, Schmidt's spokesman, C.J. Grover, said the "attorney general continues to believe Kansas law should not allow children to be labeled 'aggressors' who are responsible for the criminal conduct of adults who commit sex crimes against them."