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SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors filed criminal charges against a refugee from Ethiopia in January, accusing the 21-year-old of raping a 12-year-old girl in Sandy when he was 19.
Except the refugee isn't 21 and he was actually only 16 when the alleged crime occurred.
Now, prosecutors have scrambled to move the case from the adult system to juvenile court after the teenager was finally able to obtain his birth certificate and prove that the information on his identification, which showed him to be 21, was inaccurate.
The teenager was arrested in January and charged in 3rd District Court with two counts of rape of a child, a first-degree felony.
In January 2020, he began sending messages to a 12-year-old on Facebook and continued contacting her after she blocked him. Charging documents say he showed up at the girl's house three times. The first time, he is accused of pushing his way into her house when the girl was alone, overpowering her and raping her.
Three days later, he returned and the girl's sister answered the door. When he said he wanted the sister as well, the girl began fighting with him and "told her little sister to go in her room and lock the door," the charges state. The girl said she was again raped.
The third time he paid a visit, police said both the girl and her sister were able to push him out of their house. The girl said he gave her a cellphone to "keep her quiet," but later said "he was going to send people to (the girl's) house to kill her," according to the charges.
When the charges were filed, investigators had documentation showing that his birthdate was 01/01/01, which would make him 21 years old now, and 19 at the time of the alleged crimes.
A court motion filed by the teen's attorney, Brixton Hakes, explained that the boy was born in Ethiopia and his birth certificate indicates he was actually born in May 2004, meaning he is now 18. Hakes claims his client was wrongfully prosecuted.
Hakes explained that his client's family was searching for documentation that would show the teenager's actual birthdate for months, and the process was very difficult. The motion filing shows driver's licenses for two other individuals in this teenager's family that have incorrect birth dates on Jan. 1, just like his, showing that this documentation issue is more widespread.
"Defendant immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia where proper documentation is inaccessible, unreliable and often inaccurate. Upon arrival to the United States, defendant and all of his family members were registered as having been born on Jan. 1. That information is not correct and merely a reflection of a lack of accessibility to proper documentation by defendant, and a possible language barrier," the motion states.
The motion also says a 16- or 17-year-old who has sexual activity with someone who is 12 years old can only be charged with a third-degree felony.
The two juvenile charges filed against him are the same that were filed in adult court — first-degree felony rape of a child — except the phrase "if committed by an adult" has been added, which shows the charges could change in the future, to something more applicable for a juvenile case.
The initial motion to dismiss was filed on June 13, but it took until Sept. 2 for prosecutors to file the motion to dismiss and the adult charges to be dropped, after charges were filed in juvenile court on Aug. 24.