When you think of sexual abuse against a minor, you probably think of a crime that is committed by an adult. However, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) found that one-third of the sex offenses committed against minors are committed by juveniles, with most of the offenders being males between the ages of 15 and 17.1

So what happens when a minor commits a sex crime against another minor? Will they face the same consequences as an adult charged with these crimes?

When Does a Juvenile Sex Crime Become an Adult Crime?

California law requires that minors are 14 years or older to be prosecuted as an adult. Generally, one of the key issues that may determine whether the juvenile offender will face the juvenile justice system or be tried as an adult is whether the acts committed involved voluntary participation of the victim.

While a minor cannot legally consent to sexual activity, the alleged victim’s willingness to participate in the act where no force, fear or threat of bodily harm occurs will generally lead to the case being adjudicated in juvenile court.

If the defendant is 14 years of age or older and participates in sexual activity with a child under 14 years old, the minor could face felony charges. However, if the alleged offender has no serious arrest record, the matter could remain within the juvenile system.

If the juvenile defendant has a prior criminal history and if he or she used force, threat of force, or fear to commit the sexual acts, the prosecutor has discretion to file a charge in adult criminal court, regardless of the age of the victim.

Difference in Punishment Between Juvenile and Adult Court

Juvenile offenders are punished less severely in the juvenile system than in the adult system. A finding of delinquency from the juvenile court may be punished in one or more of the following ways:

Court supervision while living with parent(s) or other guardian(s);
Probation, during which he or she may have to live with a relative, in foster care, in a group home, in an institution, or at a probation camp or ranch; or
He or she may be committed to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), until the maximum age of 25.

However, if a juvenile is found guilty of a sex crime against a minor in criminal court, he or she will face the same punishment that an adult would face for the crime, and would have the same rights and defenses as an adult in the criminal system.

The difference is that until the age of 16, a juvenile sentenced under the criminal court remains in custody in a juvenile hall, at which time he or she can be transferred into the state prison system. If the sentence ends before the defendant’s 21st birthday, the court could allow that offender to stay in juvenile hall.

In all cases involving sex crimes, minors tried as adults will be required to register for life as a sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290. If the minor is adjudicated under the juvenile system, he or she may still be required to register upon release, depending on the nature of the crime. If the offender was committed to the CDCR, the minor will be required to register under PC 290 once released.

Contact the Sex Crimes Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

Whether your minor child is being tried under the juvenile or adult criminal systems, you will need an experienced and skilled sex crimes defense attorney to help you defend these charges. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience fighting for the rights of clients in your child’s situation. We know that a juvenile crime can have a lifetime of consequences, and we are dedicated to giving your child the best possible defense against the charges.

With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Victorville, West Covina, San Diego, Torrance and Sherman Oaks, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in juvenile criminal defense near you, no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.

1. U.S. Department of Justice, Juveniles Who Commit Sex Offenses Against Minors, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, December 2009, available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227763.pdf. href=”#ref1″>↩

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