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Can a Minor be a Sex Offender? (Legal Ramifications in 2024)

A minor can be classified as a sex offender in certain circumstances. In many jurisdictions, minors can be charged with sex offenses if they engage in sexual behavior that is considered illegal, such as statutory rape, sexual assault, or possession or distribution of child pornography.
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Can a Minor be Prosecuted as a Sex Offender?

Juveniles under the age of 18 can be prosecuted as sex offenders. If a juvenile is convicted of any type of sex crime, they can legally be charged and tried as an adult. While juvenile defense lawyers are often able to argue for reduced sentencing on account of the age of their clients, when it comes to other charges, sex crimes are a notable exception.

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), signed into law in 2006, requires juveniles at least 14 years of age who have been adjudicated with a sex crime to register as federal sex offenders.

However, different factors determine whether a minor can or will be charged with a sex crime. Understanding those factors can make the difference between getting convicted as a sex offender and getting acquitted.

The severity of sex offender charges, as well as the punishment associated with them, is based on Megan’s Law – a law specific to New Jersey that utilizes specific tiers to determine the severity of a sex crime and the punishment associated with it – even when it comes to minors.

Also Read: False Sex Crime Accusation?

Types of Sexual Abuse a Minor Can Be Charged With

Minors can face charges for any sexual crime that adults can be charged with, and juvenile sex offenses are treated seriously by the justice system.

One common sexual offense committed by minors is sharing pornography with younger children. However, with easy access to the internet, tracking this behavior can be challenging.

Another offense that is becoming more prevalent due to technology is sexting between minors. Sexting is illegal for children, even when it is consensual. If consensual sexting occurs between minors who are close in age, most states often treat the offense as a misdemeanor.

However, if the minors are further apart in age or if the sexting is non-consensual, the state can pursue felony charges. The charges can become much more severe if one of the parties shares the images with others.

Other sexual offenses minors can commit include unwanted fondling, sexual touching, date rape, voyeurism, exhibitionism, forcible rape, and gang rape. All these offenses are taken extremely seriously by the justice system and can carry heavy penalties.

Also Read: Lewdness with a Minor

Juvenile Sex Offender Sentencing

According to Wikipedia, all crimes committed by children under the age of 18 are handled by juvenile courts [1]. In every case, the offender has the right to a lawyer.

The court process consists of two main parts: the trial, also known as adjudication or fact-finding, and the sentencing. During the trial, evidence related to the case is presented by both the prosecutor and the defendant.

The sentencing portion, also known as the disposition hearing, is where the judge determines whether the adolescent is delinquent based on the trial. The judge can then sentence the adjudicated to probation, placement into a rehabilitative facility, and/or restitution.

Depending on the charge, one could face 10 years to life and upwards of $25,000 in fines. In certain serious, felony sex crimes, minors under the age of 18 can be tried as an adult.[27] These conditions vary from state to state depending on severity of the offense, previous criminal record, and age.

Generally, the age at which a juvenile case can be transferred to adult court is 14-16 and requires certain circumstances. For example, minors aged 14 and up who commit first-degree rape can be charged as adults in Maryland.

Also Read: Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

Fact Sheet on Youth Who Commit Sex Crimes

The scientific literature distinguishes juvenile behavior from adult behavior on this issue.

  • Juvenile sex offenders exhibit fewer abusive behaviors over shorter periods and display less aggressive sexual behavior (National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth).
  • Juveniles’ sexual offending behavior is not fixed. They do not typically eroticize aggression or exhibit arousal to child sex stimuli. Mental health professionals view juvenile behavior as much less dangerous (NCSBY).
  • More than 90% of juvenile arrests for sex offenses are one-time events, even if the juvenile has been apprehended for non-sex offenses typical of other juvenile delinquents (Zimring).
  • Only 8% of incidents leading to juvenile arrests for sexual offenses meet the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria for pedophilia (Zimring).
    Youth sex offenders have a low recidivism rate.

Juveniles who commit sex offenses are highly unlikely to commit another sexual offense (OJJDP).

  • The recidivism rate among juvenile sex offenders is only 5-14%, compared to 8-58% for other delinquent behavior (NCSBY).
  • Several studies have shown extremely low rates of sexual reoffending for juveniles convicted of sex offenses.
  • A 2000 study by the Texas Youth Commission of 72 young offenders released from state correctional facilities for sexual offenses found a re-arrest rate of 4.2% for a sexual offense (Zimring).
  • A 1996 study in Baltimore found a sex offense recidivism rate of 3.3-4.2%, while studies in San Francisco and Lucas County, Ohio, found rates of 5.5% and 3.2%, respectively (Zimring).
  • A 2000 study of 96 juvenile sexual offenders in Philadelphia showed a 3% sexual re-offense rate.

Source: National Juvenile Justice Network [2].

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