Editorial: Let the punishment fit the crime

Two years in state prison is a ridiculously lenient sentence for Bradford Mitchell, the 52-year-old Michigan man convicted of sex crimes with a 16-year-old San Luis Obispo girl he met over the Internet.

The outcome is even more disturbing when you consider that, with credit for work, good behavior and the time he’s already served, he could be free in less than a year. At least Mitchell will be required to register as a sex offender, but we still believe his crimes warrant a harsher penalty.

A longer prison sentence not only would be a more fitting punishment, it also would be a deterrent for others and it would signal the high value we place on the safety of children — whether they are 9 years old or 16 years old.

While we wish the sentence were longer, however, the prosecution and the court aren’t necessarily to blame for the outcome.

Due to the consensual nature of the relationship between Mitchell and his victim, the district attorney’s office was limited in the types of crimes that it could charge and the amount of time it could seek.

Even if Mitchell had been convicted of all eight charges initially filed, according to the prosecution, he still would have faced no more than five to seven years, depending on the court’s interpretation of sentencing law.

Under the circumstances, we can understand why the district attorney’s office opted for a plea bargain.

That spared the young victim, already traumatized by the death of her father a few years ago, from the ordeal of testifying.

Consider, too, that the case may not be over: There is a chance that the U.S. Attorney’s Office may pursue federal charges against Mitchell. That’s appropriate, especially in view of the fact that this man admitted crossing state lines to connect with his victim.

We strongly urge federal authorities to pursue filing additional charges. But we also believe it’s time for state lawmakers to take a serious look at whether laws currently on the books are adequate protection for older teenagers who enter into “consensual” relationships with predators.

Bottom line: For adults to connect with minor children via the Internet, then groom them to leave their families to start a sexual relationship is despicable. People who commit such crimes should not be allowed to walk free after a year or two.

Authorities must find a way to ensure more appropriate sentences for predators guilty of such acts — whether that means overhauling current laws or more strictly enforcing regulations already on the books.