Spears Pregnancy May Result in Television Special Rather than Criminal Charges

Hollywood appears ready to step into the controversy over the pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spear in a truly signature way: it is ordering a special for television. While a debate rages over why this is being treated as an entertainment rather than criminal issue. Jamie Lynn’s 19-year-old boyfriend, Casey Aldridge, could be charged with statutory rape, carnal knowledge with a minor and even a Mann Act violation.

The statement from Nickelodeon is vintage Hollywood: “We respect Jamie Lynn’s decision to take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation. We know this is a very difficult time for her and her family, and our primary concern right now is for Jamie Lynn’s well being.” In the meantime, it is working on the possible special. For the full story, click <a href=”Nickelodeon is considering a special for its young audience about sex and love following the news that 16-year-old “Zoey 101” star Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant.

From a legal rather than entertainment perspective, the central issue is that Aldridge was having sex with a girl who was I15 or 16. At age 15 or 16, the law does not view a young person as having the cognitive or developmental maturity to make decisions of consent. This is the point of statutory rape. While consensual, one party does not have the capacity to consent.

For Aldridge, his relationship with Spears could easily be viewed as a criminal matter. It differs from state to state. Charges can be brought in any state with sexual relations occurred. Yet, the two states with the most relevance are California (where Spears words) and Louisiana (where Spears lives). In California, it is a misdemeanor to have sex with someone younger than 18 if the offender is less than three years older. Someone more than three years older could be charged with a felony. In Louisiana, where Spears lives, it is a misdemeanor for someone age 17 to 19 to have consensual sex with someone age 15 to 17 if the difference between their ages is more than two years.

Louisiana law defines this unlawful carnal knowledge as “sexual intercourse with consent between someone age 19 or older and someone between age 12 and 17.” If aged 15 or 16, the other person involved must be no more than two years older for the act to be considered legal.

In addition to statutory rape, Aldridge could be charged in federal court with a Mann Act violation. Originally calss the The United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 that act prohibits the interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes”. In Athanasaw v. United States (227 U.S. 326, 328) (1913), the Supreme Court extended the law beyond prostitution to include acts of “debauchery.” In Caminetti v. United States (242 U.S. 470, 484-85) (1917), it reaffirmed the broader reading of the law. Famous individuals prosecuted under the act include Chuck Berry, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Johnson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Charles Manson.

There is also child molestation and other forms of abuse of a minor.

However, statutory rape appears the most obvious. All states have some form of statutory rape laws. A breakdown of the state laws can be found here

Statutory rape and related claims has long been controversial, particularly with the prosecution of teenagers. An analogous case was that of Genarlow Wilson, who was given a ten-year sentence for consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl. An honors student and gifted athlete, Wilson was preparing for college in 2005 when he was charged in Georgia with aggravated child molestation for having consensual oral sex. Though Wilson was only 17, Douglas County District Attorney David McDade and Assistant D.A. Eddie Barker secured a 10-year sentence for an act committed by thousands of teenagers every year.

There are two basic categories of cases. Sex between underage kids and sex between an adult and a child. Both have been prosecuted, though the latter is more common. This obviously turns on state definitions and where this possible offense took place. However, this is not an argument for expanded prosecution between teenagers. To the contrary, the point is that there is a troubling inconsistency in the treatment of these cases.

States like Georgia have passed “Romeo and Juliet” laws that exclude teenage lovers — a worthy reform. These laws decriminalize or lessen punishment for sex between two young people while maintaining strict penalties for sex between an adult and a minor.

There have been challenges to these laws, particularly due to their exclusion of same sex relationships. In Kansas v. Limon
for example this distinction was challenged as unconstitutional discrimination under the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lawrence v. Texas — striking down criminal laws targeting homosexual relations. The law defined the exemption in the following terms: “sodomy . . . with a child who is 14 years of age but less than 16 years of age and the offender is less than 19 years of age and less than four years older than the child and the child and the offender are . . . members of the opposite sex.”

It is clear that we need to reexamine what were are trying to achieve in these statutory rape laws. When they were first passed, enforcement of morality codes was one of the purposes — even against teenagers. Now, we are primarily interested in the older predator model. Moreover, teens are now having sex at a younger age. The result is that these laws criminalize teen conduct and produce only harmful results — with little effect on a national trend.

We certainly cannot have a form of celebrity exemption where kids are prosecuted unless they can break their news on Inside Edition or People Magazine. It will be interesting what future prosecutions occur in states like California and Louisiana if Aldridge is not charged. It will be hard to drag another Wilson into court while Spears’ pregnancy is featured on every tabloid cover.

One mother wrote me recently about the different treatment given her son:

My son at 17 had consentual sex with a 14 year old. He was arrested and charged with 3rd degree sexual conduct. We are just past the first year of his probation. I he goes thru all 3 years he will not have to file as a sexual predator. My problem is there were alot of circumstances involved and a lot of people are under the misconception that 18 is the legal age.

For mothers like this one, their children are not just given a criminal record but have to register as sex offenders — often limiting their residential options and ruining chance for employment.

The only special that should come out of this story is one on the status of statutory rape and its criminalization of teen sex.

31 thoughts on “Spears Pregnancy May Result in Television Special Rather than Criminal Charges”

  1. Indeed, the Johnson case contained raw racist elements and remains a disturbing chapter in U.S. legal history.

  2. Jack Johnson (the boxer) was charged under the Mann Act. He charges were politically motivated because he was black she was white. The Mann Act is almost 100 years old and was brought about because of the false notion that pure midwestern farm girls were being sold into white slavery to a life of prostitution. This all started with a vigerous letter writing campaign by the religeous right (thanks again guys) who sold this bill of goods to Congressman Mann of Illinois. The government doesn’t have to prove that it was the ONLY reason, just A reason.

  3. That would mean you would still have to prove use of the internet or cell phone to meet for the specific purpose of having sex (as opposed to meeting for any other reason). If email etc. where involved their *could* be a record that includes incriminating details. But without that you are still left with no grounds to prosecute because you can’t prove when the act took place to match it up to cell phone records etc.

    I also reiterate that the Mann act under that context is a horrible law. A difference of a few months in age, at an age when a large percentage of people are sexually active, and a cell phone results in a federal crime. Seems way WAY into overkill territory to me.

  4. First, Mann Act doesn’t necessarily need a state crossing. Under today’s Mann Act, the facilities and means of interstate commerce are also cell phones and the Internet. So, Aldridge uses his cell phone or Myspace to agree to meet Ms. Spears at her home, then that is also 100% of the Mann Act. Second, in two parts for Renee, I don’t give a squeak about Ms. Spears because I am sick of my nightly news being split between these two losers and some cutsie story about a local pound puppy. We have totally lost what “news” is and the Spears’ are NOT news. There is a place for this tabloid fodder and that is in the supermartket aisle. Second for Renee, and you’re REALLY not gonna like this, but I fail to see every single baby being a precious gift. There is a billboard that expounds on the baby gift you so fondly cherish, it shows a baby with Down Syndrome and the headline that every baby is a blessing. I dare you to say that when you have to raise a child who requires round the clock care. I dare you to say that to a family who is burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills so you can call their child a blessing and a gift. I would dare say that there are a lot of people with these “gifts” who would be more than happy to send their “gift” to you. Ms. Spears is a child of wealth and privlege. Her and Master Aldridge will never know the pain and suffering that a typical 16 years old mother would experience, which I am certain plays into her decision to have this child and her ability to raise this child. You should choose your comments carefully and stop pandering to the wanton desires of our voyuristic Nation.

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  6. Pssssst, Renee, as Kathy Griffin points out so eloquently in presenting her analysis in her hysterically funny and admittedly raunchy, at times, stunning post-Schmemmy sweep, ‘Straight to Hell” debut…

  7. The Mann act sounds a little frightening in that context. However, you still have the issue that the feds would need to prove which state the act took place in to make their case.

  8. Alden Loveshade you’re totally right! The law makes no sense.

    Seriously, like how many people here didn’t do sex games or something when they were teens or preteens? My girlfriends all were having sex at 16.

    And really why do we think an 18 year old is going to treat a 16 year old right but a 21 year old won’t? Do we think really young guys make more considerate lovers than older guys? When I was 18 I dated a guy who was 30. He was totally respectful. Not like the younger guys I dated!

    Age doesn’t matter its how you’re treated that matters.

  9. HELLO Bob, Spears IS a young person!! How can you say that you “don’t give a squeak” about her as a person, but you hope the show is influential to young people? So just because she is about to become a teen parent, she is trash to be thrown away? Shame on you! I don’t necessarily agree with her age at pregnancy, yet who am I to judge? At least she seems to have the decency to carry out the pregnancy and face the consequences of her mistake. Furthermore, ALL babies are precious gifts, no matter the circumstances in which they come into this world. This child is a blessing, as are all children. Who cares about how he/she got here.

  10. For a Mann Act prosecution, the government would only need to proove that the defendant used the facilities or means of interstate or foreign commerce to meet and have sex with an underage victim. The Mann Act is the vehicle of prosecution of all Internet sex cases. There are federal child molestation laws unless you torture or kill the victim. For Aldridge to violate the law, all prosecutors would have to show was that he drove from his home in Mississippi to Spears’ home in Louisiana and that they had sex there. That’s it, 100% cnviction under the Mann Act. I think the feds should get involved, I think they should prosucute Aldridge and that he should get the mandatory minimum of five years for his crime. I also think he should be required to register as a sex offender and be subject to all the same penalties and public humiliation that similarly situated persons are. First, he contributed to tarnishing an influentual program which Spears happens to be part of. I don’t really give a sqeak about her as a person, just that the show is influentual to young people. Second, his prosecution will open up and shed light on the ridiculus sex offender registration laws we have going on in this Country right now. No one with at least a high school education would call Aldridge a pedophile, but he will be branded one in the local mass hysteria. Further, it sheds light on the already well known, but oft-ignored truth that knowing where sex offenders are did not protect Spears because Spears knew her perpetrator. It’s not stranger danger.

  11. As only a teenager, I believe that those celebrities would not and never will be charged by the law. Even if so, it would only be a minor sentence. After all, Aldridge was having sex with lil.Spears who was already near legal age and I think it was consensual.

    Though I would really hope he’ll get charged and letting him off Scot-free would be a hit for the law. Don’t forget to mention the influence to other teens.

    While in my country ,the legal age would soon to be raised from 16 to 18.

    Nice article,it got me thinking.

  12. One concern I have is that it is easy to look at any celebrity as not being human. If it will be so easy for him to be charged, wouldn’t that ruin any opportunity for him to be a father?

    Nickelodeon’s response seems more akin to Volkswagen paying money to Jews during their forced labor building beetles, or how pressure is placed on a pastor if his daughter becomes pregnant-its image. Nickelodeon islooking out of course for Nickelodeon. In fact it has impliitly made its statement that she is the victim and statutory rape has taken place, since its ONLY concern is for Spears.

  13. I personally know of a 14-year-old male who participated in consensual sexual activity (genital touching) with a female under age 12. He was arrested and faced lifetime registration as a sex offender. The law of the state of Texas automatically assumed that, at 14, he was the perpetrator, she was the victim, and he was legally responsible for his own actions.

    I personally know of a 17-year-old male who had consensual sexual relations with his 14-year-old girlfriend. He was a very loving, considerate and gentle boyfriend. In the state of Texas where he lived, when he was 16 and she was 14, he was not a sex offender because the difference in their legal age was two years. But very shortly after he turned 17, he was arrested and faced lifetime registration as a sex offender. The actual difference in their ages didn’t change; but because of a birthday, a lover became a criminal. The law of the state of Texas automatically assumed that, because the girl was 14, she could not have been a perpetrator, she was the victim, and was not legally responsible for her own actions.

    Does anyone else see the logical flaw in all this? Can a 14-year-old be automatically a helpless victim in one case because of age, and automatically a perpetrator in the other?

  14. Where did you last two wingnuts come from?

    I’m not reading anymore ignorant, high-handed, moralistic drivel
    -either here OR at the other post.

    Fortunately, neither I, nor any female I know, have to ask for (your) permission to live nor are in need of your ‘special’ input on how to raise children to be well-adjusted, contributing members of society in the face of enormous challenges – everyday.

    As Jonathan suggests, “the only special that should come out of this story is one on the status of statutory rape and its criminalization of teen sex.”

  15. I got here via Google so good job in getting your name out via the Comment section.

    I have never heard the term “older predator model” before and I suggest that for those interested in childhood health it is a scary term. First, given the fact that we rely on adults for teaching children everything else, it’s difficult to justify making sex the only exception in a age-based model. If older adults prey on a child’s sex, how and to what extent do school teachers prey on a child’s mind? Why is the line drawn only at sex? Even if out goal is to eliminate adult predation, a model based upon morality posseses more logical soundness. Second, as the above poster noted, it’s difficult to justify why one party gets a stat rape charge and the other does not when both are teenagers. It’s logically inconsistent to argue that if the girl didn’t know what she was doing, and the guy didn’t know what he was doing, no wrong has been committed; two wrongs don’t make a right is solid policy. If we think that teenagers shouldn’t be having sex because they don’t have the mental ability to do so, the correct answer is to charge them both with a crime. If neither are charged with a crime society is left if the awkward position of arguing that it’s OK for two teenagers to have sex because neither knew what they were doing but if an adult and a teen have sex that bad because the adult knew what he was doing. The interests of promoting basic intelligence, not to mention all standard educational practice, militate against just such a conclusion. Indeed, in the typical case, a mature adult is much better able to provide financially, emotionally, and psychologically for the offspring of a teenage tryst than another teenager would.

    I am very wary of a model based upon age becasue I believe in the long run it plays into the hands of those who wish to eliminate stat rape entirely. A model based upon morality does produce some awkward situation, but provides a much firmer logical foundation.

  16. I believe that every discussion of statutory rape should be entwined with a discussion of abortion decisions made by the same aged girls.

    If a girl who is under pressure to get rid of a problem pregnancy has the sagacity to decide what constitutes human life and whether it is in her (and her putative child’s) best interests, then she is wise enough to decide whom she copulates with.

    Furthermore, any girl who has sex with a male old enough to be guilty of statutory rape, should be charged with a serious criminal offense, one almost as serious as rape.

  17. Robert,
    The selective prosecution issue is a definite problem, and as you say it extends to other crimes and other demographic criteria. I am constantly shocked by the number of celebrities (of any variety) that are never even charged with crimes and with the light sentences for those who are.

    Obviously there are a number of sociological issues at work in selective prosecution, but it seems to me that it is not taken nearly as seriously as it should be. IMO it a critical issue to address if we are to maintain a working legal system that people believe in.

  18. This is a well-written article. However, due to the prosecution used for celebrities, I find it very unlikey that Aldridge will be charged.

    I would be interesting in a futher discussion of this selective prosecution issue. More serious, of course, is when it occurs along racial lines, but I would like a better understanding of why it happens.

    For example, no investigation was done when Jamie was photographed smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, despite being underage at that time for both items.

    In fact, many of these young celebrities are reported regularing in the entertainment media drinking in fancy bars and clubs. As a bar owner in the Midwest, I can guarantee that I would be talking to the police if I served an underage person and their picture showed up on the news.

  19. Your post raises a few questions that I would appriciate hearing more about.
    Under he Mann act what would be needed to prove that Aldridge did the transporting? Given Spears fortune would there be a prosecution problem if she traveled on her own?
    While the pregnancy demonstrates that sex took place *somewhere* without either party talking about where wouldn’t it be impossible to bring statutory rape charges in any state without some other evidence that sexual contact took place in that specific state?
    Is Aldridge’s age confirmed? I read several diffrent ages.
    Is it correct that if sufficient evidence is not present for a charge this case would not prove a problem in future prosecutions?

    I also saw your comment on another site where you stated:
    “There is a notion that celebrities are ageless and, even at 15 or 16, it is not surprising to find that stars are sexually active.”
    I disagree with this statement on the basis that it should not be surprising to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the facts to find that ANY 15 or 16 year old is sexually active. As you state here this is hardly a problem isolated to celebrities.

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