Thirteen: A Taking Action Investigation

Posted on: 12:32 pm, November 1, 2012, by , updated on: 08:49am, November 2, 2012

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – When is a child a child under Alabama law? You might think that’s an easy question to answer. It turns out, it’s not. There are very real consequences for some as well, like a Lawrence County woman who was raped at thirteen and could now see her attacker walk free – far sooner than she ever expected.

As a little girl, Chelsea Teague loved going to the movies and hanging out with friends. All that changed when a much older family member started raping her. Eventually, Teague and her family pressed charges –agreeing ultimately to a plea deal they thought would put Chelsea’s attacker behind bars for twelve years. Then Chelsea’s mom Bonnie discovered the law might work against them in that regard.

Due to Alabama’s “Good Time” policy for prisoners and the possibility of parole, Chelsea’s abuser will likely serve only a fraction of his original twelve year sentence. Even more painful for the Teagues? If Chelsea had been just two years younger when she was raped, her attacker would have been forced to serve a full term.

Here’s why: Alabama rape law has two classes – Felony Class A (Rape One) and Class B (Rape Two). Class B, what Chelsea’s attacker admitted to, happens when a defendant is older than 16 and the victim between 12 and 16. It carries a sentence of two-to-20 years with some early release allowances. Class A, involves a victim less than 12 and carries a penalty up to life behind bars – with no “Good Time” or parole.

“I was mad. I furious,” Chelsea Teague explained, describing how she felt when learning how her age at the time she was attacked might make things easier on her abuser, “I was heartbroken.”

“We’re supposed to just sit by and say, ‘That’s Ok, at least she was just 13?’” Bonnie Teague said, “[That’s] not OK with me.”

Bonnie became even more frustrated with this arbitrary definition of a child after finding a variety of age cut-offs in Alabama law. WHNT News 19 followed her lead and took action, investigating Alabama’s criminal and civil codes – and found the line between minor and adult is, indeed, all over the map.

So why can’t there be one, simple definition, for a child in Alabama law? Watch Michelle Stark’s full report – linked above – to hear lawmakers and lawyers react to that question and to see the results of our investigation.

You can also find a petition, started by Bonnie Teague to push for change in Alabama rape laws, here at Change.org.