Zach Anderson, an Indiana teen who was ordered to spend the next 25 years on the state sex offender registry, had his criminal sexual conduct sentence vacated today.
Judge Dennis Wiley, the same judge who sentenced Anderson after he pleaded guilty, granted the motion brought by Anderson’s legal team for a re-sentencing, the Berrian County Court told ABC News’ “Nightline” today. In granting the motion, Wiley recused himself from the case. A bond hearing is scheduled for this Friday, his father Lester Anderson told “Nightline” today.
Another judge will be selected for the re-sentencing of the case. Anderson’s probation officer told him this morning that he is not currently on probation since the sentence was vacated.
Anderson is still on the sex offender registry in both Michigan and Indiana, but his parents "are confident that this is a step in the right direction of Zach being taken off the sex offender registry entirely."
"This is definitely a step in the right direction," Lester Anderson told "Nightline."
“Nightline” profiled the 19-year-old’s case and his family’s fight to clear his name in July before his appeal hearing. His story went viral, with thousands of comments pouring in on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. Watch the original "Nightline" report HERE.
As a convicted sex offender, Anderson faces notably strict probation. For the next five years, he is forbidden from owning a smartphone or using the Internet. He is not allowed to talk to anyone younger than 17, other than immediate family. He is banned from going to any establishment that serves alcohol and he has to be home before 8 p.m. every night.
Because he is not allowed to use a computer, his budding career in computer science is now shuttered. He will be listed on the sex offender registry until 2040.
Anderson’s story began last winter when he drove from his home in Elkhart, Indiana, to Niles, Michigan, a town 20 miles away, to meet up with a girl he had met on the dating app “Hot or Not.”
The girl later admitted to police and testified in court at Anderson’s sentencing hearing that she had lied about her age and told Anderson she was 17. She was really 14. The age of consent in Michigan is 16. The girl had also registered on the “adults” section of the dating app.
“[She] was actually the first person I had met up with or anything from that,” Anderson told "Nightline" in a previous interview. “I had asked her when we were messaging. I said, ‘How old are you?’ And then she had told me 17 … I just got out of high school. So it's two years difference. I didn't think that was a big deal or anything.”
After they connected, Anderson, saying he thought he was talking to a 17-year-old, said they flirted through text messages and arranged to meet. Anderson picked her up and the two drove to a playground in Niles, where they had sex.
Unbeknown to them, the girl’s mother had called police that night because she thought her daughter was missing. Two months later, detectives showed up at Anderson’s job at a mechanic shop.
Anderson eventually pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Despite the then-14-year-old girl and her mother testifying on his behalf, saying the sex was consensual and the girl had lied about her age, the judge in the first trial sentenced Anderson to 90 days in jail and ordered him to register as a sex offender.
Making matters worse, Michigan, where the crime occurred, is a state that does not provide an automatic defense if the victim lies about her age.
Convicted sex offenders are forbidden from visiting any public areas where there might be children, so Anderson also wasn’t allowed to live in his parents’ house because it was 800 feet of a public boat ramp, just shy of the 1,000-foot distance minimum.
His parents were forced to dip into their savings for legal fees and to buy him a fixer-upper home on the other side of town that met the distance requirement.
In their efforts to clear their son's name, the Anderson family hopes their fight will help others in similar situations.
“We hope that they stop putting people on the sex offender registry like they're passing out traffic tickets,” Zach Anderson's mother, Amanda Anderson, told "Nightline" in an earlier interview. “There are hundreds and hundreds of people that don't deserve to be on that list, and it's supposed to be a safeguard for the community. And instead, they're just publicly shaming these people and our son for life.”