You might assume most cases of sexual assault are committed by adults; however, recent data estimates show a significant spike in sex crimes by adolescents. As a result, accusations and charges related to sex crimes are among the most serious you can face—no less if you are at least 14 years old. Read on to learn:
- The Misconceptions surrounding adolescent sex offense;
- What to expect if you are accused and charged with a crime; and
- Your future if convicted of an adolescent sex crime.
Common Misconceptions to Keep in Mind
As mentioned, there is a common expectation that adults commit the majority of sex crimes. Statistics find juveniles account for a range of anywhere from 20-30% of sex offenses against minors; certainly, not an equal majority, but more than the average person would assume.
Adolescent sex crimes happen more than you think and do not necessarily come from the same places. Many juvenile sex offenders, regardless of upbringing, faced sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes. Family instability can play a part in this, too. These unfortunate circumstances can exist in any environment.
There is another expectation that an adolescent sex offender might have a higher chance of committing another crime later on in life. Data suggests this is not true; sex offense recidivism in many studies suggests re-offense rates as low as 3%.
Finally, a final misconception is that the current sex offender system gives convicted offenders ‘what they deserve.’ The public perception of a crime might be negative, but you still deserve representation as much as any citizen. There are many aggressive laws relating to a sex offense that could harm you for life. Hiring an attorney to defend you against the worst consequences a person can face is a key step in securing your future as much as possible.
What to Expect if Charged: The Juvenile Court Process
Juvenile courts oversee all crimes committed by children under the age of 18 in Maryland. Where all cases differ, there is a procedure somewhat similar to the court's process for adults.
First, know you are entitled to a lawyer for the extent of the proceedings. With sex offenses, know that even for juveniles, the consequences can be severe. It is crucial to have the best representation possible to help minimize the damage a charge like this can do to your future.
Leading up to a juvenile court hearing, law enforcement and the court may order you to be placed in a detention center until the date of your hearing. If this is the case, a subsequent hearing will be scheduled for the following day to discuss the terms of your detention.
The juvenile court equivalent of a trial is known as a fact-finding hearing or adjudication, held within 30-60 days of detention. Like a trial, both sides—typically a state and defense attorney—present the case’s evidence. In addition, witnesses can be called to testify, cross-examination can take place, and ultimately the court determines as to whether the juvenile is guilty—there are juries in Maryland Juvenile court.
Juvenile courts call the ‘sentencing’ portion of the proceeding the disposition hearing. Here, in the event the juvenile did not admit to the offense, the judge will determine if the child is delinquent based on the evidence presented in the adjudication portion of the procedure. A judge can order the following at disposition:
Probation, or supervised release under conditions set by the court;
Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Service, in which the child will be removed from the home and placed in a rehabilitative facility; and
Restitution, which involves compensation for damages or costs caused by the child’s actions.
In certain felony sex offense cases, a child at least 15 years old can be tried as an adult in Maryland—which, unfortunately, is a far more complicated and public process than juvenile court. You are entitled to an attorney as a juvenile; use this to your advantage. It is crucial to avoid those charges as much as possible, and a skilled criminal defense attorney can help keep your case at the juvenile court level.
Protecting Your Future
There are serious consequences to juvenile sex crimes—especially in severe cases where a child is tried as an adult.
Depending on the charge, the juvenile could face anywhere from 10 years-to-life in prison and upwards of $25,000 in fines. In addition, rather than placement on Maryland’s Juvenile Sex Offender Registry—a non-public list that maintains the details of the juvenile’s case for life—the child would be added to the public Sex Offender Registry. This is far more damaging in the long run, as it keeps your conviction on record accessible for anyone, including friends, family, potential employers, and, of course, law enforcement.
A judge could sentence you to any of the above dispositions on the less-severe end of potential consequences. Though your juvenile record is not open to the public, employers and college admissions committees—among others—could inquire about your criminal record as a condition for your acceptance or hiring.
Though Maryland hears juvenile record expungement petitions often, provisions in the rule to block expungement for adolescents who have to register as a part of their charges.
Sometimes, juvenile sentencing is not as simple as probation, commitment, or restitution. There are cases juvenile sex offenders find themselves committed for years if found ‘not ready’ or ‘unsafe’ to return to the public. However much a juvenile court’s purpose is to rehabilitate a child post-offense, there still exists the possibility for their records to remain for years after disposition.
If you have been accused or charged with a juvenile sex crime, contact our offices for a free initial consultation. Our lawyers are highly specialized in defending against criminal sex offense charges. Stay on top of your future and reach out for help; it could be the difference between juvenile court and being tried as an adult.