According to multiple news sources, NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor pleaded
guilty on Thursday (January 13) in his highly publicized case involving
an underage prostitute. Although he was initially charged with the felonies
of Rape in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 130.25) and Criminal
Sexual Act in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 130.40), he was allowed
to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charges of Patronizing a Prostitute
in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 230.04) and Sexual Misconduct (Penal
Law Section 130.20). As a result of this plea, he will not face any jail
time, but will instead be on probation for six years and be registered
as a sex offender.
This is obviously a favorable plea deal for Taylor and he was probably
right to take it, though the truth is that a jail sentence would not have
been mandatory (or a given here) even if had gone to trial and been convicted
of the top charge. Certainly, state prison time would have been a possibility,
however, if he had contested the charges and lost at trial.
Taylor was alleged to have had sexual intercourse with a 16 year-old, and
as a result, could have faced up to 4 years in prison on a conviction for a Class E felony charge of Rape in the Third Degree
or Criminal Sexual Act in the Third Degree.
Rape in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 130.25) applies to those people over the age of 21 accused of having sexual intercourse
with those under the age of 17, whereas Criminal Sexual Act in the Third
Degree (Penal Law Section 130.40) applies to those people over the
age of 21 that engage in oral sex or anal sex with a person less than
17 years of age. Sometimes casually referred to as “statutory rape”
charges, these charges do not require any allegation of forcible compulsion
or violence; the youth of the victim combined with the age difference
of the other actor make the sexual conduct illegal per se.
Patronizing a Prostitute in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 230.04)
and Sexual Misconduct (Penal Law Section 130.20) are both Class A misdemeanors
punishable by up to one year in jail. The former applies to those over
the age of 21 that patronize prostitutes under the age of 17. To patronize
a prostitute means to engage in sexual conduct with another in exchange
for a fee, on in contemplation of a fee. It also includes simply agreeing
or offering to pay someone a fee in exchange for sexual conduct, meaning
that the sexual conduct does not even have to be performed. Sexual Misconduct
applies to those who engage in sexual intercourse or oral sex or anal
sex with another person without that person's consent. In this case,
there is no allegation that the 16 year old did not consent because of
the use of force; the justification here is that the Penal Law states
that a 16 year old is wholly incapable of giving consent to a person over
the age of 21.
It is hard to say whether Taylor's celebrity status contributed at
all to him receiving this favorable plea bargain. However, there does
appear to have been at least one significant mitigating factor in the
case. Though not technically a defense, as Rape in the Third Degree is
a strict liability crime (meaning that it is legally irrelevant whether
or not he knew or believed that she was underage), the fact that the woman
apparently deceived Taylor about her age was clearly significant in convincing
the prosecutor to offer the deal and the judge to accept it.
As a result of this deal, however, Taylor will have to register as a Sex
Offender. Anyone convicted of certain “registerable” sex offenses
in New York must be registered as a sex offense by operation of law. (Click
here for a list of those offenses). In New York State, there are three
main levels of sex offender classification, with Level 3 being the highest
and Level 1 being the lowest (there are also more specific sub-classifications
for Sexual Predators, Sexually Violent Offenders, and Predicate Offenders).
The determination of level classification is made after sentencing at
a Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) hearing. Generally, prior to the
hearing, the registrant, his background, and his criminal conduct are
evaluated. The evaluator gives him scores in these different areas that
reflect his perceived risk to society. For example, the registrant's
criminal conduct would receive a higher score if it involved a minor or
the use of violence. People with higher scores are then more likely to
be classified in the higher-risk categories of Level 2 or Level 3. Certainly,
repeat offenders are also much more likely to be classified as Level 2
or Level 3. The ultimate Level classification is determined by the sentencing
judge, and sometimes the parties argue over the proper classification.
In our experience, we find that oftentimes, especially in Level 1 cases,
both the prosecutor and the defense attorney are able to agree and the
Level classification is a formality.
The different classification levels demand different things of the offenders.
The New York State Office of Sex Offender Monitoring (OSOM), which oversees
sex offenders in New York state, has a helpful website that explains some
of those requirements. Also, the names and sometimes the photographs of
Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders can be found at the website.
Taylor's attorney has already publicly stated that he expects his client
to be classified as Level 1, and he is probably correct in that estimation,
given that there was no allegation of physical force or violence against
the victim, and there is no allegation of a pattern or predatory conduct
If you or a loved one have been suspected or arrested of committing any
of the crimes described in this post,
contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.