It's Time For The Legislature To Adopt "The Van Akkeren Rule"
I really don't have a lot to add to the extensive commentary that has already been offered on the decision by Sheboygan County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Van Akkeren to vacate a jury verdict against Mitchell Pask. As everyone knows by now, Judge Van Akkeren decided that attempting to lure a nine year old girl into a public park shelter did not satisfy the elements of the statute - because the shelter was not sufficiently "secluded".
In my opinion Judge Van Akkeren, not for the first time, badly missed the boat on this ruling. The problem though is that there's not a lot that people in Sheboygan can do about it. Van Akkeren was re-elected, without opposition, to another 6 year term last April. Trying to recall a sitting judge like Van Akkeren is an almost practical impossibility - and a legal impossibility until the summer of 2008 (given his recent re-election). A proposed courthouse protest might give people an opportunity to vent but it's really nothing more than a waste of spirit.
If there's going to be justice in this case, it's going to have to come from an appellate court.
This doesn't mean though that people are powerless. If we want to avoid a repeat of a decision like this, my advice is simple: pressure legislators to change the statute!
Wisconsin Statute 948.07 reads as follows: Child enticement. Whoever, with intent to [ have sexual contact with a child ] causes or attempts to cause any child ... to go into any vehicle, building, room or secluded place is guilty of a Class D felony ... ."
Note that the "secluded place" language does not apply to any of the other places a child cannot be lured to. For example, a car parked in the Mayfair Mall parking lot at high noon on the last Saturday before Christmas is the least secluded place in the world. Regardless, trying to lure a kid into your car under these circumstances would be a crime!
It strikes me that the focus of the crime should be the effort to lure the child - not the location where the child is directed to. If you have a pervert on a playground trying to lure a child away from the swing set to an area under the slide, should it matter whether the slide is "secluded"? Of course not. A child can be molested in a matter of seconds - and it can occur in public.
If we want to avoid this issue completely, simply change the language of the statute to read: "Child enticement. Whoever, with intent to [ have sexual contact with a child ] causes or attempts to cause any child ... to go to any location is guilty of a Class D felony ... ."
Wouldn't this be a lot more simple? Why argue whether a playground shelter or a stand of trees or a parking lot is or is not sufficiently "secluded". If the statute can be violated by trying to lure a kid intro a building (that doesn't have to be empty), why can't it be violated by trying to lure a kid to an unoccupied lean-to.
If the statute were changed as outlined, the prosecution would still have to prove that the defendant was trying to entice the child for an immoral purpose. Obviously, this will be harder to prove if the pervert is trying to lure the kid to an area where others could observe his conduct. Without intent, you have no crime.
I certainly appreciate why people are outraged over the decision in this case. However, the easiest way to avoid a repeat of something like this is simply to change the statute. Maybe someone in the Wisconsin legislature - like Sheboygan Rep. Terry Van Akkeren - will take up the cause.
It would probably also be good to remember this case if Judge Timothy Van Akkeren runs again in 2013.