16 year old Steubenville, Ohio students and football players Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays will be tried as juveniles next month for the rape of a 16 year old girl who passed out due to what is thought to be administration of a date rape drug at a house party last August. It is alleged that Richmond and Mays were part of a group of high school boys who gang raped the unwilling victim. This case has taken social media and the Internet by storm partly due to the posting of a video depicting a recent Steubenville High School graduate making jokes about the victim and the interaction of the “Rape Crew” with her as she lay unconscious. Adding to the interest of a Nation is the idea that Steubenville is a town, much like the fictional town of West Canaan, Texas in the movie Varsity Blues, where high school football rules. There is the notion that in Steubenville winning high school football games is such a priority that their own local prosecutors and Judges shouldn’t be trusted to try Richmond and Mays’ case. For these reasons the town of Steubenville is on a quest to debunk these ideas and show that these actions won’t be tolerated. In spite of all the back and forth, justice must be served and that must be done via a fair trial system.
Under Florida law I believe Richmond and Mays, because they are 16, would be charged as adults pursuant to a State Attorney’s discretionary Information under Florida Statute 985.557(1)(b). In charging a juvenile as an adult the State Attorney, upon a conviction, gives the Court jurisdiction to sentence a 16 year old juvenile to an adult sentence. As it stands this opinion runs contrary to the election in Ohio to try them as juveniles. I won’t speculate as to the reasoning behind the Ohio Prosecutor’s decision to leave these young men in the juvenile system. I, like the rest of us, only have access to what I read online and in the newspapers.
From all reports this Tampa criminal attorney has reviewed, it appears Richmond and Mays are accused of having sexual intercourse with the alleged victim. If these facts were proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a Florida jury, they would be guilty of sexual battery under Florida Statute 794.011(4). Specifically for this situation, it would have to be proven that there was oral, anal, or vaginal penetration or union with the sexual organ of the victim while she was physically helpless to resist, was physically incapacitated, or was administered an intoxicating substance without her knowledge. If 16 year old juveniles are convicted as adults a Florida Judge could sentence them to up to 30 years in the Florida Department of Corrections and fine them $10,000. Because this case is a sexual battery, not only would Richmond and Mays face an extremely harsh direct penalty were they in Florida, they would have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
Steubenville is a town under extreme scrutiny from the outside world. In short, it seems as if the rest of the United States has a general lack of trust for their authority figures and the obligation to see to it that justice is served in this instance. Special Prosecutors have been assigned and a visiting Judge will oversee this trial. As with any case the media’s coverage does not tell the tale. Regardless of one’s opinion on guilt or innocence, due process must be afforded and a fair trial must be had. Difficult as it may be for some to swallow, these kids are entitled to the same innocent until proven guilty privilege as anyone else facing a criminal allegation. Should the State of Ohio prove the guilt of these young men, so be it. If so, they should be punished. If the evidence is inadequate, they should be acquitted and time will march on. Regardless of guilt or innocence, all parties deserve justice. Sometimes we get just that, sometimes we are left wondering. One thing is certain, Steubenville better get this right.
Jason Mayberry is a Tampa criminal lawyer with offices in Tampa and Clearwater. Jason is available by phone if you’ve been charged with a criminal offense at 813-444-7435 or 727-771-3847.