(CBS/AP) SEBASTIAN, Fla. - Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18-year-old Florida high school student charged over a same-sex relationship with an underage classmate, refused to accept a plea deal Friday, CBS affiliate WPEC reports.
Prosecutors had offered Hunt a plea deal that would have allowed her to avoid registering as a sex offender if she pleaded guilty to lesser charges of child abuse. State Attorney Bruce Colton had said he would recommend two years of house arrest followed by one year probation if she took the deal.
Hunt was expelled from her high school in Sebastian, Fla. and was arrested and charged in February with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a child 12 to 16 years of age as a result of her relationship with a 14-year-old girl.
Since Hunt rejected the plea deal, her case will go to court. If she is found guilty of the second-degree felony charges, she could face up to 15 years in prison and could be required to register as a sex offender.
According to State Attorney Bruce Colton, if she is found guilty, it's also possible that Hunt could apply to not have to register as a sex offender under a "Romeo and Juliet" law because the girls were no more than four years apart in age.
Colton said the victim's family is not pushing for prison but wants Hunt to be held responsible in some way.Hunt played on the basketball team with her younger girlfriend and shared the same circle of friends, Hunt's mother, Kelley Hunt Smith, has said. The two had a consenting relationship that began soon after Kaitlyn Hunt turned 18, and Hunt Smith said she assumed the younger girl's parents knew that.
Kaitlyn's father has publicly claimed that the girlfriend's parents went to police because they blamed Kaitlyn for their child's homosexuality.
Since Kaitlyn's arrest, the case has garnered national attention for what some say is a gay rights issue. Gay rights advocates, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, argue that older high schoolers dating their younger counterparts is an innocuous, everyday occurrence that is not prosecuted - regardless of sexual orientation - and not a crime on par with predatory sex offenses.
However, Florida state law says that anyone under the age of 16, male or female, cannot legally consent to sexual activity.
"The law doesn't make any differentiation. It doesn't matter if it's two girls or two boys, or an older boy and a younger girl or an older girl and a younger boy. Whatever the combination, it doesn't matter," Colton said. He said the law is designed to protect younger children from older children who might be more aggressive in starting a relationship.
The Hunt family had previously said that they would only accept a plea deal if the charges were dropped to a misdemeanor.