An 18-year-old high school senior, accused of having sex with her then-14-year-old girlfriend, has rejected a plea deal that could have kept her off Florida’s sex-offender registry.
Kaitlyn Hunt of Indian River County is charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16 years old. If convicted, she would be sentenced from probation to 15 years in prison and registered as a sex offender.
State Attorney Bruce Colton said earlier this week that Hunt had until Friday to accept the plea offer made a month ago.
Hunt would have pleaded guilty to third-degree felony child abuse, facing up to five years in prison, but the State Attorney’s office would not have sought a jail term, Colton said.
"The State Attorney’s Office tendered an extremely lenient plea offer in this case which would have ensured that the defendant avoided any term of incarceration and the stigma of being labeled a sex offender," Colton said Friday in a news release. "In fact, in all probability, the defendant would have avoided being a convicted felon."
Hunt’s attorneys, A. Julia and Joseph H. Graves, also issued a media statement Friday saying why Hunt would not accept the plea deal.
"Our client is a courageous teenager who is choosing not to accept the current plea offer by the State of Florida," the Graves said. "This is a situation of two teenagers who happen to be of the same sex involved in a relationship. If this case involved a boy and girl, there would be no media attention to this case."
Next for Hunt:
"They go to trial or a judge has the wisdom that the state attorney lacks and they dismiss the charges somehow," said supporter Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the state’s leading gay-rights group.
Colton said the case is scheduled to go to trial in mid-July.
Hunt turned 18 on Aug. 14, 2012. She and a 14-year-old classmate, known as C.S., began dating in November. They first had consensual sex just before Christmas in a bathroom at Sebastian River High School. The relationship continued through February, according to an arrest affidavit. The younger girlfriend turned 15 in April.
Since May 17, more than 268,000 people have signed an online petition begun by friends and family titled, "Stop the prosecution of an 18 year old girl in a same-sex relationship."
Smith said the petition was an act of desperation by Hunt’s parents, to keep her from going to trial and, possibly, prison.
"This is the last thing the family wanted to do, make this public. They spent months talking quietly, trying to get the state attorney to be reasonable," Smith said.
In Florida, the legal age of sexual consent is 18. In 2007, the state adopted a “Romeo and Juliet” law that would keep 18 year olds from being registered as sex offenders if they had consensual sex with classmates age 15 or older.
Hunt doesn’t qualify because her girlfriend was 14 at the time they had sex, Colton said.
"No high school senior should be facing 15 years in prison for dating a schoolmate and a teammate under the circumstances described in this case," Smith said. "There are lots of freshmen dating seniors. A law meant to stop adults from preying on children should not be used to destroy two teenagers lives."
Earlier this week, the younger girl's parents, Jim and Laurie Smith, told CBS-12 News in West Palm Beach that they twice warned Hunt to stay away from their daughter.
"Another adult, a mother, came to me and said 'Ms. Smith you need to know this ... we told Miss Hunt to leave your daughter alone. But they are in a relationship, and she's 18.' Eighteen? My daughter is only 14," Laurie Smith told CBS-12.
If the case goes to trial, one or both of the girls will be asked to testify about their intimate encounters, Smith said.
"That’s the sexual abuse crime," she said, "to compel a teenager to describe the most intimate details and to plaster them all over the Internet."