TODAY

TODAY   |  May 23, 2013

Student, 18, charged for same-sex relations with minor

An 18-year-old woman in Florida has been expelled from high school and is facing criminal charges for allegedly having sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl. Her parents are saying she’s being punished because of her sexual orientation. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports.

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>> a case that's getting a lot of attention in florida , actually. an 18-year-old high school student facing criminal charges for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old. nbc's kerry sanders is in sebastian, florida , with that story, kerry, good morning.

>> reporter: well, good morning, savannah, the lawyer for the 18-year-old does not dispute the facts in this case. her client has been expelled from the high school here and now that teenager faces a difficult decision. accept a plea deal or fight the charges, two charges or lewd and lascivio lascivious behavior on a minor.

>> shep wanted to speak, but when she walked to the microphone, she couldn't find the words. wrapped in her father's arms, the cheerleader's story has become a cause to more than 150,000 online. freekate.net, a petition on change.org and facebook posts all urging the state attorney drop the prosecution. the honor student faces two counts of lewd or lascivious battery. if convicted, she could go to prison for up to 15 years, the same as if a boy were convicted of the same crime with an underage girl. and she would be a registered sex offender .

>> she's been robbed.

>> katelyn's parents say they believe the charges resulted because the parents of the 14-year-old cannot accept their daughter had sex with a girl.

>> this is killing us as a family. i would just beg for them to look at that and look at the reality of it, listen to their own child, what she says, you know. and just what's the purpose of this.

>> charles sullivan is an attorney representing the 14-year-old alleged victim and her parents.

>> this is a violation of the law that's based upon an adult having sexual relations with a minor. the gender, sexual orientation of the parties has nothing to do with the prosecution.

>> how are you holding up?

>> every day's different. some days i'm my happy self, other days i'm overwhelmed, scared, i have my days.

>> the state attorneys offered kate a plea deal , but her attorney says she would still be a convicted felon and would have to attend sex offender counseling. her hope now --

>> i'm definitely hoping for a better plea deal , but if not, then we'll have to do everything that we can do to win the fight.

>> the clock is now ticking. the state attorney has told katelyn's lawyer they have until friday afternoon to accept the plea deal or go to court. meantime, the 14-year-old in this case has now turned 15. savannah.

>> all right, kerry sanders , a little bit of a lighting issue there. kerry, appreciate it very much. let's turn to lisa bloom . good morning to you.

>> good morning.

>> does this case raise a lot of questions. but let's start with this straightforward application of the law. the fact of the matter is, there are statutes in every state in the country that prohibit sexual conduct with a minor and that minor's consent is not a defense. is this an open and shut case on the law?

>> well, that's right, savannah, an 18-year-old is an adult in the eyes of law. and in florida if you're 18 and have sexual relations with a 14-year-old, that's statutory rape . an 18-year-old can drink, can work, live independently sign contracts, a 14-year-old can't do any of that. there's a line in the law on age.

>> there's a law that looks at it and says there's a power imbalance when you're talking about an adult and minor.

>> and psychologically there's a big difference between 14-year-old and 18-year-old.

>> a lot of people look at the facts of this case and ask would this be prosecuted at all. forget the law is on the books, if not for the fact this is a relationship between two girls.

>> and that's the question. so i looked at fbi statistics online and turns out that 9 out of 10 people prosecuted for statutory rape are male and 9 out of 10 victims are female. overwhelmingly it's heterosexual boys prosecuted for this. this seems to be an outlier.

>> they've been offered a plea deal from the prosecutors which would mean no jail time, house arrest , she would be a convicted felon and there would a chance that the judge could withhold adjudication and she wouldn't have to register as a sex offender . do you take the deal? because her parents aren't so sure she should.

>> very reluctantly if she were my client, i would say, yes. two years house arrest is a long time, but she's facing up to 15 years in prison. this is a tough law. she can petition the court under the romeo and juliette statute, which is she wouldn't be the sex offender list. in the long-term, not all that bad for her in the two year short-term, pretty bad.

>> and what's the alternative? if she doesn't take the plea, she goes to court, isn't the verdict going to be guilty because she's acknowledged this conduct and as we just discussed the law's straightforward on this.

>> she really doesn't have a defense. ignorance of the law wasn't a defense. the law just looks at the age of these two girls, both of whom admitted to the police they had sexual relations .

>> very quickly, there's a public petition now and i think it has something like 150,000 signatures to get the prosecutors to drop the charges. is that the kind of thing that can be persuasive to a prosecutor?

>> it can be. the prosecutor has broad discretion here. he can offer a better deal to her. that's within his power. the petition could affect that. if she goes to court, of course, the petition can't affect what a judge would do.

>> a lot of interesting legal issues and parenting issues too.