Mary Prosser and Ben Kempinen joined forces to reform state law on teen consensual sex

Governor Scott Walker signed Assembly Bill 414 into law last month, marking the successful end to a ten-year effort by UW Law School Professors Mary Prosser and Ben Kempinen.

The new law reduces the penalty for some teens charged with engaging in consensual sex. Kempinen and Prosser joined forces to reform the previous statute, which they called excessively harsh and unnecessary to advancing public safety.

Under prior law, high school-aged kids who had consensual sexual intercourse risked facing felony charges and being placed on the state’s sex offender registry for life. The new law helps keep teens off the registry and reclassifies the offense from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor, as long as both parties are between the ages of 15 and 18.

According to Kempinen, he and Prosser wanted to address a disparity they were seeing in the application of the law. Their research revealed that cases varied widely by county: teens might end up with a felony and on the sex offender registry, with a misdemeanor, or with no conviction at all.

“Although many state prosecutors were not pursuing these cases as felonies—or for that matter, as crimes at all—some had done so aggressively. That has led to a significant minority of young defendants becoming felons and lifetime registrants as sex offenders,” he says.

Prosser and Kempinen worked together to push for reform by researching, drafting proposals and speaking to lawmakers. They recently testified before assembly and senate committees.

The two say their goal in part was to honor the vision of Frank Remington, the late professor for whom the Law School’s criminal law clinics are named.

“He taught that part of a law school’s duty is to devote resources to improving the justice system,” says Kempinen. “And Professor Prosser and I both believe the new law is fairer, more sensible and in the best interest of Wisconsin citizens and taxpayers.”


Submitted by Law School News on April 23, 2018

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