Some parents and attorneys say the consequences should be less severe for a young adult who has a consensual sexual relationship with a minor.
Other states have changed their laws to differentiate consensual sex from predatory crimes.
Florida adopted a “Romeo and Juliet” law in 2007, allowing some people to petition the court to forgo registering as a sex offender.
Attempts to reach Knowlton for comment were unsuccessful. Yang, 19, who is pursuing a law degree at Briar Cliff University in Iowa, said it wasn’t fair for his former friend to be charged with a felony for a consensual, long-term relationship.
“The punishment didn’t really fit the crime,” Yang said.
Teens and young adults sometimes aren’t aware of the possible criminal consequences of dating someone underage, attorneys say.
What seems like a high school romance can lead to a felony conviction and having to register as a sexual offender.
In Minnesota, adults and juveniles convicted of felony criminal sexual conduct or child-pornography possession must register as a sex offender for 10 years.
Those who register must tell authorities where they live, work and go to school and what vehicle they drive.
Benda didn’t question his 17-year-old girlfriend when she took a naked picture of herself in the mirror on his cellphone. “I didn’t think.” Now, her former boyfriend is facing serious consequences.
The photo is a reflection of her and Benda, his hands covering her body. The girl later told a Dakota County judge that she had forgotten about the picture until police came to her house and asked about it. Benda was convicted of felony child-pornography possession and is awaiting sentencing.
Knowlton pleaded guilty to the charge in March, but the conviction will be wiped from his record if he successfully completes five years of probation.