Runestad Detroit Free Press Op-Ed: Prosecutors abusing discretion to protect youthful sex offenders

By Sen. Jim Runestad
15th Senate District

A controversy has arisen recently regarding the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA), a decades-old Michigan law giving young criminal violators of lesser crimes a second chance, In a clear abuse of the law’s intent, some prosecutors have used this law to obtain less serious charges for rapists.

The act of rape destroys lives and must always be met with the full force of the law. We must do all we can to make sure victims achieve justice and defend rape victims and the most vulnerable among us.

Under HYTA, individuals age 17 to 24 who commit certain crimes may be eligible for “youthful trainee” status. Those granted such status will be on probation for up to three years, but the crime they committed is kept off their record.

When applied correctly, the law makes sense for those who, due to youthful indiscretion or a lapse in judgment, commit a petty crime. However, young people must not be given a free ride for more serious crimes. That is why various offenses, such as murder, several drug-related crimes, drunk driving and most serious criminal sexual charges, are not included in the list of those offenses for which an individual can be designated a youthful trainee.

It is only most criminal sexual charges that are ineligible for HYTA status — not all such charges — and that is where a glitch in the law creates a dangerous technicality that must be changed.

Some prosecutors have utilized Section 750.532 of the Michigan Penal Code as the loophole. It states that it is a felony to “debauch an unmarried woman.” The act expressed by this antiquated language in the law essentially equates to rape, and, incredibly, this act currently is eligible for HYTA status.

As reported by the Lansing State Journal, a woman was raped at a fraternity party at Michigan State University in 2017, and prosecutors used the HYTA statute to convict the woman’s rapist of a lesser charge.

The newspaper named another woman who agreed to the HYTA plea against her rapist so she wouldn’t have to relive her assault. It also recounted the story of three MSU football players who forced a woman to have sex with them who pleaded to a less serious charge.

In all, an investigation by the newspaper found 19 cases in two years in which HYTA was used in sexual assault cases. In all cases, those found guilty under HYTA were not required to register as sex offenders, and they have no criminal record indicating their offense.

Rape must never be simply dismissed as a “youthful indiscretion.” To prevent this means of escaping justice, I introduced Senate Bill 204. This measure closes the loophole in state law by including Section 750.532 as one of the listed offenses that are ineligible for HYTA status.

SB 204, which is currently awaiting action in the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. would go a long way toward preventing some perpetrators of criminal sexual assault from escaping the consequences of their behavior and securing a clean criminal record.

This op-ed appeared in the March 30 edition of the Detroit Free Press. State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District in the state Senate.