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Felipe Vazquez charged with sexual assault

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The left-hander is facing a prison term of up to 20 years

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In a shocking and utterly disturbing development, news broke Tuesday that Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez was arrested in Pennsylvania on charges in Florida which included unlawful solicitation of a minor. From KDKA in Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Felipe Vázquez has been arrested on charges of pornography and soliciting a child.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Vázquez was arrested just after 11 a.m. Tuesday in Pittsburgh on a felony warrant out of Lee County, Florida. Vázquez, 28, of Saint Cloud, Florida, is facing charges of computer pornography – solicitation of a child and one count of providing obscene material to minors.

Florida law enforcement officials say their investigation began last month after officials “obtained information that Vázquez had a reported sexual relationship with a 13-year-old female” in Florida. Authorities say the alleged victim, now 15, had gotten text messages from Vázquez saying they would meet up after baseball season.

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An incident report from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said Velazquez and the victim met at PNC Park, where they took pictures outside the bullpen. The report says the victim found Vazquez on social media and the two began talking over the last three years. Investigators say the victim also told police that Vazquez drove to her Pennsylvania home on one occasion. She says Vazquez pulled her pants down while they were inside his car, and placed her on his lap, then tried to have sex with her. The incident report says the reported incidents occurred between July 29 and Aug. 1 before being reported Aug. 5. Investigators say the girl also allegedly received a video in July from the pitcher in which he is shown performing a sex act.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and absolutely all of it is horrifying.

To start with the obvious, if there’s truth to the allegations, Vazquez’s baseball career both is and should be almost certainly over. Pursuant to the joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy in MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Vazquez has already been placed on administrative leave and the restricted list pending MLB’s investigation.

What Vazquez was originally charged with is called “computer pornography - solicitation of a child,” which means that he is being charged in connection with the text messages he sent to his alleged victim. Solicitation of a minor for sex in Florida is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Solicitation where the defendant travels to meet the victim is, under Florida law, a second-degree felony punishable by fifteen years in prison, meaning that if Vazquez was convicted and served his entire sentence, he’d be 43 before he was paroled, whereupon he’d have to register as a sex offender. And each separate solicitation - that is, each text message, email, or phone call - is a separate act carrying a separate penalty, meaning that if Vazquez had been communicating with the victim over the course of two years as alleged, he is facing potentially numerous counts under the solicitation statute. All in all, Vazquez could well be looking at a decade in prison under Florida law.

But although he was initially arrested for this charge, Vazquez isn’t facing charges in only Florida. A judge denied him bond, meaning that he will stay behind bars instead of being released on bail pending trial, and indicated that further charges would be filed shortly.

By the end of the day, Vazquez was facing four additional charges under Pennsylvania law.

From the reports we have, his attempt to have sex with the alleged victim occurred in his car in Pennsylvania. By operation of law in every state, no child under the age of 16 can consent to sexual intercourse with a legal adult, meaning that sex between Vazquez and a thirteen-year-old is sexual assault by operation of law- what we more commonly call “statutory rape”. That’s the most serious charge here.

§ 3122.1. Statutory sexual assault.

(a) Felony of the second degree.--Except as provided in section 3121 (relating to rape), a person commits a felony of the second degree when that person engages in sexual intercourse with a complainant to whom the person is not married who is under the age of 16 years and that person is either:

(1) four years older but less than eight years older than the complainant; or

(2) eight years older but less than 11 years older than the complainant.

(b) Felony of the first degree.--A person commits a felony of the first degree when that person engages in sexual intercourse with a complainant under the age of 16 years and that person is 11 or more years older than the complainant and the complainant and the person are not married to each other.

Vazquez is charged under subsection (b), a first-degree felony carrying a penalty of up to twenty years in prison. Even assuming Vazquez never completed a sex act with his victim, that would not constitute a defense. Solicitation of a crime and an attempt to complete a crime are what are known as “inchoate offenses”; in other words, an attempt to commit a crime generally is itself a crime. What Vazquez did in his car was “to pull[] her pants down while they were inside his car, and placed her on his lap, then tried to have sex with her.” Assuming these reports are accurate, under Pennsylvania law, this could well constitute attempted statutory sexual assault.

Under Pennsylvania law, an attempt crime is complete once a substantial step has been taken towards the crime, which could here potentially be considered the removal of the victim’s pants. In Pennsylvania, “attempt, solicitation and conspiracy are crimes of the same grade and degree as the most serious offense which is attempted or solicited or is an object of the conspiracy.” That means that were Vazquez convicted of statutory sexual assault, he could be facing up to twenty years in prison.

The other crimes charged here arise under Section 6318 of Pennsylvania’s criminal code, and are generally third degree felonies carrying penalties of up to seven years in prison.

Notably, Pennsylvania also has a law specifically prohibiting “sports officials” from engaging in sexual intercourse with minors engaged in sports-related programs. This crime, “sexual assault by a sports official,” is a third-degree felony which could potentially be considered here, although the statute is fairly new and its outer confines yet to be determined.

If Vazquez ever attempted to have sex with the victim in Florida, that conduct would likely constitute attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a second-degree felony punishable by ten years in prison. Florida’s laws also include some non-prison sentences, such as court-ordered treatments with medroxyprogesterone acetate, a process known as “chemical castration,” and being permanently barred from possessing any erectile dysfunction drugs. In Florida, too, Vazquez will likely have to register as a child sex offender.

All of which is to say that Vazquez is facing very serious charges. Even a plea deal eliminating the most serious felonies would still result in a lengthy prison term and registration as a sex offender. And because he’s facing charges in two different states, he has to face two different sets of criminal justice systems. It’s entirely possible - if not probable - that he stands trial in Pennsylvania first (the more serious charge), and then in Florida thereafter. It’s also unlikely, though not impossible, that his sentences would run concurrently for both states; instead, he’d likely serve his Florida sentence before or after the Pennsylvania sentence if found guilty in both states.

I’ve received some questions wondering what kind of discipline Vazquez is facing under the Joint Policy, and whether he could play baseball after that. The first question is whether or not registered sex offenders can be present in baseball stadia; the question is still heavily litigated, with at least some courts saying that prohibiting them from entering a stadium is unconstitutional. That said, it’s a fair bet that unless Vazquez receives a lifetime ban, his prison term may well be lengthier than any discipline MLB metes out. In fact, if Vazquez is found guilty on even some of these counts, by the time he’s eligible for parole, he’ll be too old for a team to care. And frankly, that’s probably a good thing.

That’s not to say MLB shouldn’t mete out a harsh punishment. Rather, the focus on the ramifications of this for Vazquez’s baseball career is wildly misplaced. If these allegations are true, Vazquez’s legacy isn’t of strikeouts or saves; it’s of at least one girl’s life left in shambles. For one poor girl, the nightmare of Felipe Vazquez turned out to be all too real.