Wednesday, July 11, 2001


After yesterday's special session, Gov. Ben Cayetano
talked about the Legislature's override of his age-of-consent veto.

Prosecutors say
few are likely to
be prosecuted
under new law

But those who backed raising
the age of sexual consent say
it makes a statement

Rare override makes history

By Nelson Daranciang

Few suspects are prosecuted under Hawaii's sexual age-of-consent law and raising the age of consent to 16 will have little impact on the number of such cases, county prosecutors predict.

State legislators raised the age of consent from 14 to 16 yesterday when they overrode Gov. Ben Cayetano's veto of a bill they had forwarded to him earlier this year.

At 14, Hawaii's legal age of sexual consent was the lowest in the 50 states. Hawaii now joins 28 other states with a 16-year-old age of consent.

The age of consent is 18 years old in 14 states, 17 in five states, and 15 in two states.

The new law makes illegal consensual sex by an adult with a minor under 16, provided the offender is at least five years or more older than the teen.

The Class C felony is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Few cases involving violation of the sexual age-of-consent law reach county prosecutors each year.

"At most, a handful," said Jay Kimura, Hawaii County prosecutor. "Under the new law, not many more."

Peter Carlisle, Honolulu City Prosecutor said his office handled three sexual assault cases last year involving minors under 14 having consensual sex.

"By and large these cases don't come up because nobody reports them. They're usually prompted by a parent," added Richard Bissen, Maui County prosecutor.

And not all of the cases go to trial. "The majority are not prosecuted for a variety of reasons: reluctance of the victim to testify, shame.

"Many situations the parents are reluctant to put their kid through a trial. Sometimes the suspect is a juvenile, too," Kimura said.

"If the parent reports and the girl doesn't talk to you, you don't have enough to charge," said Michael Soong, Kauai County Prosecutor.

Sometimes, though, prosecutors do not need a statement from the victim.

"We actually had a very young girl, about 12 years old, impregnated by a guy in his late 20s, almost 30," Soong said.

In that case, DNA evidence to identify the father of the child was enough to convince the suspect to plead guilty to a class B felony rather than face being convicted in trial of a class A felony, he said.

Carlisle is the only county prosecutor who opposed raising the consent age to 16 and who testified against the legislation. "What I would like to see one of these years is a law that will have a big impact on crime in Hawaii. Instead we get this kind of thing," he said.

But Bissen said, "I don't think you need a law because there's a problem, I think you can have a law because it's a good law."

"We supported the bill," added Soong. "We have a lot guys in their late 20s, early 30s with cars, drugs and alcohol picking up young girls. This law will tell them those girls are off limits."

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