Originally created 07/15/06

Law needs to come of age



It isn't just Georgia. South Carolina also is having fits with its sex-offender law.

Like Georgia, legislation Carolina passed earlier this year was designed to stiffen penalties against rapists and child molesters, including being the only state that would permit prosecutors to seek the death penalty for those convicted more than once of sexually assaulting a child 10 or younger.

The problem arose with the wording of the age-of-consent aspect of the law. Some prosecutors and victims' advocates say there's an ambiguity that suggests the age of consent has been lowered from 16 to 14.

If so, offenders could claim their victims passed themselves off as older than they were.

The confusion grows out of the "Romeo clause," an exception carved out of the otherwise get-tough law when an individual 18 or younger is accused of having consensual sex with a partner who's 14 to 16 years old.

That exception is not an overall lowering of the age of consent, says Trey Walker, spokesman for state Attorney General Henry McMaster. "The age of consent in South Carolina is still 16," asserts Walker, who says his boss will soon issue an official opinion saying just that.

An attorney general's opinion has clout in legal circles, but it's not the final word - that will be decided by the courts. But even if the A.G.'s opinion does prevail, lawmakers would still be well advised to clean up the age-of-consent ambiguity in next year's session.