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Teen sex no crime in some cases

The boy and the girl were 16 when they had consensual sex. Prosecutors charged the boy with statutory rape, a law that has been on the books since the 19th century.

But on Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional as applied to the 16-year-old Pinellas County boy.

What that means, attorneys said, is that prosecutors will probably stop criminally charging certain teenagers for having consensual sex. In particular, the ruling will make it unlikely for a 16-or 17-year-old to be charged for having consensual sex with another 16- or 17-year-old.

The ruling does not apply to a teenager who commits rape. And it does not apply to a teenager who has sex, regardless of consent, with someone 15 or younger. Those acts are still clearly crimes, said Stephen Romine, the assistant public defender who represented the boy.

In the Pinellas case, the boy _ identified only as "B.B." in the ruling _ was charged in 1993 with sexual battery. But after the boy was deposed, prosecutors charged him in juvenile court with the lesser offense of statutory rape.

The statutory rape law has been on the books for a century, and attorneys on both sides called it archaic. The ruling notes that the law's stated purpose was to "protect virtuous young women . . . within the specific age from defilement."

The problem with the law in this case, according to the ruling, is that it conflicts with the boy's right to privacy guaranteed under the Florida Constitution.

Sometimes the government has a "compelling state interest" to investigate a crime, the ruling said. For example, if an adult had sex with a minor, the state's "compelling interest" to prevent the exploitation of children would outweigh the adult's right to privacy.

But in this case of two consenting minors, the boy's right to privacy took precedence, the court ruled.

The ruling overturns a decision by the Second District Court of Appeal, and upholds the original decision by Circuit Judge George Greer to dismiss the case. Romine had filed the motion to dismiss.

The statutory rape law is not frequently used, but Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe had some misgivings about the decision. "I'm worried about what message it sends," McCabe said.

So was former Assistant State Attorney Laurie Hammers, who handled the case before Judge Greer. While acknowledging the law was drawn up in a different time, she said the problem of young children having sex and having children is very current.

"Something _ what the answer is, I don't know _ has got to be done about the children who are having children, because in the end, most of them are going to be dependent on the system," Hammers said.

Justices Ben Overton, Harry Anstead, Charles T. Wells and Gerald Kogan were in the majority on the decision, and justices Major Harding, Stephen Grimes and Leander Shaw dissented.