Owen Labrie, the prep-school graduate who was acquitted of felony sex assault of a 15-year-old girl in August, nonetheless faces life on the sex offender list after a New Hampshire judge rejected his attempt to overturn a felony conviction for illegal computer use to arrange a sexual encounter between himself and the girl.
Labrie’s case garnered national attention because of references to the “Senior Salute” at the elite St. Paul’s school in New Hampshire, an alleged competition among senior males to have sexual encounters with younger females. He was found guilty of misdemeanor sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child, also a misdemeanor, which would have resulted in his being forced to register as a sex offender for a decade, the Associated Press reports.
But his choice to use a computer – as distinguished from other forms of communication – to interact with the 15-year-old resulted in a felony sex offense, meaning Labrie may have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. At the end of his sentence on the felony charge, he will be able to petition the court to be removed from the sex offender list, the AP reports.
“He could have used the telephone or engaged in direct face-to-face conversation. He also could have used a quill pen and parchment,” Judge Larry Smukler of the Merrimack County Superior Court wrote in his opinion, the Concord Monitor reports.
“The legislature has rationally recognized, however, the danger posed by the use of a computer or the internet, which combines the immediacy of conversation with the distance of a written communication conveyed by post,” Smukler’s opinion continued.
Labrie s attorneys were quick to criticize the judge s ruling as excessively harsh. In a written statement, Labrie s attorney, J.W. Carney, said he was considering seeking clarification from the Legislature or governor, the Concord Monitor reports.
We are disappointed by the court s decision, Carney wrote.
Law professor Albert “Buzz” Scherr of the University of New Hampshire tells PEOPLE that the harsher statute for communication via computer stems from the idea that “the computer is a more flexible tool than the telephone or mail. You can do so much more in terms of developing a relationship.”
“If you get a call from somebody who tries to develop a relationship over the phone with you about sex you wouldn t keep talking. You d hang up. It is just that different,” he says.
Scherr adds: “Imagine if the circumstances was a 55-year-old with a history of sexual offense. I think that’s when it’s good to have that statue in place. That is particularly troubling beyond the fact that the person is also engaged in criminal conduct.”
Labrie s sentencing is Oct. 29. He faces a sentence ranging from probation to up to 11 years in prison.
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