Palm Bay, FL (Florida Today) -- A Florida man says a case of love versus the law has left hisdaughter, a high school student, facing criminal charges that could landher in prison and require her to register as a sex offender.
StevenHunt and tens of thousands of online supporters are asking prosecutorsto drop the case against Hunt's daughter. Eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn Huntwas arrested in February related to what her father said was aconsensual same-sex relationship with another student who was 15.
A Facebook group created to support Kaitlyn asks people to write to theirlegislators to change laws in order protect high school peers fromprosecution in similar cases.
"Kaitlynwas a highly respected student at Florida's Sebastian River High Schoolwith good grades and participation in cheerleading, basketball andchorus," Hunt, of Palm Bay, wrote in the petition on Change.org. "Shewas even voted 'most school spirit.' Now she's been expelled from schooland is facing serious felonies - all because she is in love."
Huntwants prosecutors in Indian River County to drop the two charges filedagainst his daughter in February. A rainbow-colored "Stop the hate, freeKate" page on the online petition site Change.org had more than 56,500supporters calling for prosecutors to drop the charges Monday afternoon,and a similar "Free Kate" Facebook group page had more than 30,000members.
"The lawis designed to protect our children, but the law does not serve itspurpose when it is applied to consensual behavior between peers," astatement on the Facebook page reads.
Thecase started in February, but has since garnered national attention forwhat some media portray as a gay rights issue. In the online petition,Hunt claims his daughter's girlfriend's parents went to police becausethey blamed Kaitlyn for their child's homosexuality.
That doesn't change the case for the Indian River County Sheriff's Office.
"Ifthis was an 18-year-old male and that was a 14-year-old girl, it wouldhave been prosecuted the same way," Indian River County Sheriff DerylLoar said during a Monday news conference.
Florida's law says any person who engages in sexual activity with aminor between the ages of 12 and 16 commits the crime lewd andlascivious battery.
"The idea is toprotect people in that vulnerable group from people who are older, 18and above," said Bruce Colton, state attorney for Florida's 19thcircuit, which includes Indian River County and other parts of theTreasure Coast. "...The statute specifically says that consent is not adefense."
Coltonsaid prosecutors will not drop the charges based on the public petition.He said this case exemplifies the purpose of the current law and addedhe would not support any effort to make consensual relationships amongpeers legal.
"There'sa big maturity difference between them," he said. "You're talking thedifference between a senior in high school and a freshman in highschool. That's what the law is designed to protect."
Thesecond-degree felony charges are punishable by up to 15 years in prisonfollowing a conviction. Colton said the state offered a plea agreement -of two years house arrest and one year probation - to Hunt on May 1.
Hunt and her legal team have until Friday to take that offer. The victimwas not identified because she is a minor. A spokesman for thesheriff's office said he was unaware if the victim had retained legalcounsel.
KelleyHunt Smith, Kaitlyn's mother, posted a plea for help on the Facebooksupport page. This is how it appeared online: "I need people to standand fight with me for my daughter's life. Should the girls have madebetter choices, YES. I agree, but is this criminal, no. Does my daughterdeserve to lose her life for 15 years, or 3 years, or to have no life,because of one choice she made in high school, absolutely not!!"
Accordingto an affidavit for Kaitlyn's arrest, Kaitlyn and her girlfriend wereboth students at the Sebastian high school and started dating inNovember 2012. The victim told police they began a sexual relationshipbefore Christmas and performed sexual acts on each other multiple timesat the school and at Kaitlyn's home in Sebastian as recently as earlyJanuary. The report indicates the victim was 14 and Kaitlyn was 18.
IndianRiver County detectives interviewed the victim and Kaitlyn andconducted a recorded phone call between the two as part of theinvestigation to develop grounds for an arrest. In the call, Kaitlyntold the girl she loved her.
"Youraffiant asked Kaitlyn if she knew it was wrong to have sex with [nameredacted] due to [redacted] being 14 years old," the detective wrote inthe affidavit. "Kaitlyn stated that she did not think about it because[redacted] acted older."
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