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 by Taylor.
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.