A juvenile defendant for any crime is always a difficult situation. Age, maturity and sometimes simply being able to discern right from wrong makes each case unique. What should juveniles accused of sex crimes and their families expect?

Assault and rape

While all sex crime charges are serious, a juvenile accused of physically attacking someone has a difficult road ahead. The legal system comes down hard on these offenses. If the charge is a felony, the court may try the child as an adult. Contact an experienced sex crimes defense attorney immediately to prepare a defense strategy.

Sex crimes in an era of advanced technology

Juvenile sex crimes became more complicated and, sadly, far easier to commit since children started carrying smartphones. Unlike physical assault, affordable technology and our connectedness have opened a new world of potential crimes and the associated trauma.
Someone can take a secret photo or video, also known as “voyeurism,” then share it with hundreds or thousands of people in one’s online community in seconds. Under-aged couples that share nude photos with each other could potentially experience the pain of the content going public or find themselves accused of distributing child pornography.

Sharing private nudes, at any age, can go wrong in innumerable ways. A friend might find the photos and share them. A bad break up could result in someone sharing the photos as an act of revenge. A thief might steal the phone. And, as we learned with the iCloud leak of celebrities’ private nude content, hacking is always a possibility. Things can go wrong even for young adults who have the presence of mind to practice responsible data security with their devices.

To add to the complexity, these events aren’t necessarily intentional. For example, a quick selfie in the locker room might show a teammate disrobing in the background that no one notices until it’s already on social media.

First steps after charges

When a juvenile faces sex crime charges, the family should act as soon as possible. The child should not speak to law enforcement without first consulting an attorney and they should always have an attorney present during interviews.
Even before the case goes to court, the accused juvenile may have to accept certain restrictions on their freedom, including constant adult supervision or restrictions on spending time with other children of certain ages.

Penalties can be harsh

Washington is particularly aggressive regarding sex crime penalties, especially in cases when the court charges a juvenile as an adult.

Even lesser charges can be life changing. A conviction may require the juvenile to register as a sex offender, which can have a disastrous cascade effect on their education and job prospects. In extreme cases, they may have to stay on the sex offender register for up to 15 years, no matter their age at the time of the crime. In positive news, a Washington State law change in 2023 reduced the number of offenses that require juvenile sex offender registration.

Juvenile defendants will most likely have to submit to a psychosexual evaluation to determine what caused the child to commit the crime. The results of these evaluations can drastically affect the potential penalties they will face. Washington’s juvenile crimes system acknowledges that sometimes children simply make tragic mistakes, instead of acting with malice. Treatment programs are available for these cases. However, if the evaluation goes poorly, the child may face serious penalties, including detention.

In instances when the child has admitted guilt, or the evidence is overwhelming, the defense goal should be treatment or rehabilitation over detention.

Again, each case is unique and will undoubtedly weigh several complicated factors. A defense plan should be prepared as early as possible to achieve the best outcome.