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When the parents of two underaged girls discovered their daughters’ body piercings, they did more than just blow their lid — they called the police. Now, in a rare usage of the state’s risk of injury to a minor statute, the Stamford, Conn., man whom the girls asked to perform the bellybutton and nipple piercings faces criminal felony charges for allegedly impairing the teens’ morals. Prosecutors have used the statute in question, C.G.S. � 53-21(a)(1), in a wide range of unusual circumstances, including a case where a man solicited urine from children to pass a drug test. Still some lawyers say there is a limit to what acts the law should cover. The critics include Stamford criminal defense attorney Stephan Seeger, who represents the body piercer, Paul Rotante. Seeger contends his client should not be criminally prosecuted under the statute’s morals clause because he did not influence the decision of either girl to have their body parts pierced. Nor did his actions connote sexual misconduct, Seeger claims. FACING UP TO 20 YEARS Rotante has filed a motion to dismiss the case, which is headed for jury selection. According to court documents, the girls, who were 14 and 15 at the time of the incident, voluntarily visited Rotante’s piercing business. Under state public health laws, the body piercing of unemancipated minors under the age of 18 is prohibited unless the minor has written permission from a parent. However, the Department of Public Health does not actively investigate businesses that perform body piercings, a DPH representative said. People performing such piercings also do not need to be licensed in Connecticut, the official noted. It is not clear if the minors in this case had presented parental permission to Rotante. Seeger argues that his client should be held accountable under the public health law, but not under the criminal felony statute. If Rotante is found guilty by a jury of the risk of injury charges, he faces a maximum jail time of 20 years. Although lawyers questioned by The Law Tribune agreed they had never seen the criminal statute used in prosecuting such a case, they were divided on whether the charges would stick. William Dunlap, a professor of criminal law at Quinnipiac University School of Law, said Rotante has a good shot at prevailing in the case. “I can’t find any [appellate] case remotely resembling the use of that statute for this kind of purpose,” Dunlap said. The risk of injury statute, he added, is often challenged for being constitutionally vague. “Usually the conduct [charged under the morals clause of the risk of injury statute] was so obviously wrong nobody could have been misled” as to whether the statute applied or not, Dunlap said. Stamford Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Weiss, who is prosecuting the case, did not return telephone messages last week. Executive Assistant State’s Attorney Judith Rossi said she has seen defendants brought to court on charges of impairing the morals of minors for a variety of reasons, but never for a body piercing. Still in most instances, Rossi added, the state’s appellate courts have upheld the wide range of convictions under the criminal statute. Both the public health department and angry parents have the right to refer such a body piercing incident to the state for prosecution, she maintained. “I don’t see this as something out of the ordinary,” Rossi said of Weiss’s decision to prosecute Rotante. New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington said he often has used the statute in relation to drug activity, but not for the body piercing of minors. “I suppose it could fit,” he said. Like Dearington, Ansonia/Milford State’s Attorney Mary Galvin also has not applied the law to the body piercing of a child, she said. “I am sure that the prosecutor [Weiss] has read all of the facts” that would lead him to bring the charges, Galvin said. “There are plenty of legal procedures to test it, if it is an insufficient charge,” she pointed out.

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