Juveniles, Sex Offenses, and the Scope of Substantive Law
46 Texas Tech L. Rev. (2013), Forthcoming
21 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Last revised: 8 Aug 2013
Date Written: June 7, 2013
Substantive criminal law is an important factor in determining whether a juvenile will be tried as a juvenile or transferred to adult court. In particular, the gravity of the offense with which the juvenile is charged is a key component of most states’ discretionary waiver statutes, and it disproportionately influences judges when deciding whether to transfer juveniles. As a general matter, sex offenses are considered serious crimes. And a number of serious sex offenses are criminalized because of the victim’s age. These severe penalties reflect a policy determination on the part of legislatures that when sexual activity is illegal, either in whole or in part, because of the age of one of the participants — a category of crimes that we refer to as "age-determinative sex offenses" — participation in that activity is a serious crime. The question we seek to answer in this Article is whether the justice system ought to distinguish between adult and juvenile offenders for these age-determinative sex offenses when assessing the seriousness or gravity of these crimes. We believe it should. In particular, this Article argues that, when the juvenile is in the same peer group as the victim — that is to say, the age difference between the victim and the offender is not large — substantive criminal law should recognize that an age-determinative sex offense is not nearly as serious as it would be if committed by an adult.
Keywords: sex offenses, juvenile offenders, juvenile justice, statutory rape, child pornography
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