Seventeen-year-old Austin Yabandith was attending high school in Superior, Wisconsin when he fell in love with a 15-year old girl named Moon (not her real name). They had a consensual relationship for a year. During this time, they had sex and also took photos of each other. At one point, Moon sent a picture of herself to another boy, and it got circulated with a few people in the school. This came to the attention of the Police School Liaison Officer who notified the police, and they arrested Austin.
43% of high school students have sex, and the average age of students engaging in sex for the first time is 15.3 years for boys and 15.1 years for girls. Many states have “Romeo and Juliet” statutes that exempt teens from being charged if they are less than 4 years apart in age. In Wisconsin, there are no such statutes, and further, a 17-year-old there is tried as an adult.
Austin was charged with three felonies: sexual assault of a child under 16, punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine; sexual exploitation of a child by filming a person under 18 in sexually explicit conduct, punishable up to by 12 ½ years in prison and a $25,000 fine; and possession of child pornography, photographs and recordings of sexually explicit conduct of child under 18, punishable by up to 3 ½ years in jail a $10,000 fine. Additionally, Austin would be registered as a sex offender for 25 years. (The Sex Offender and Registration Act (SORNA) was intended to protect communities from sexual predators – – but Austin Yabandith was hardly that.)
The DKT Liberty Project stepped in to help by engaging a lawyer for Austin and paying the legal fees that his single mother could not afford. Attorney Robin Shellow of Milwaukee, WI undertook the process of saving a young man from having his life ruined for behaving as so many teens do.
Attorney Shellow met with Austin and his mother and hired a psychiatrist to do further interviews with Austin. She entered into negotiations with the District Attorney in Superior, WI with the goal of trying to keep Austin out of jail. Through excellent communication, advocacy, and tenacity, the case was resolved as follows: Austin pleaded to two misdemeanors, with no imprisonment or fines, and two years of probation. Thanks to Shellow’s work, Austin has returned to school and is hoping to attend college. He now has a chance at a normal life.