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Can a Minor Be a Sex Offender?
In some states, minors can be made to register as sex offenders if they get convicted of a sex crime. Minors who have to register can face criminal charges for failing to do so. However, there is a wide variety of rules in different states regarding sex offender registration for minors.
For example, in California, minors can be made to register as a sex offender if they were incarcerated for certain sex offenses. In many states, like New York and Michigan, the age of the child can determine whether the minor has to register. In Ohio, meanwhile, judges have a lot of discretion over whether to make juveniles register as a sex offender.
If the minor was tried as an adult, though, registration requirements will typically be the same as for adult defendants.
In many states, the age of the minor is a significant factor in whether they will have to register as a sex offender. Many states have rules that no minor under a certain age will have to register.
In New York, for example, there are 3 types of juvenile defendants under the age of 18:
Juvenile delinquents are adjudicated of a crime, not convicted. Juvenile and adolescent offenders, on the other hand, can be convicted. Because a conviction for a serious sex crime triggers a registration requirement, this means that minors under 13 years old will not have to register as a sex offender in New York.
Michigan has a similar rule. Minors under 14 at the time of the incident will not have to register. Other states, like South Carolina, do not have a minimum age, though minors under 12 can register on a sex offender list that is not made public.
It can. Relatively minor sexual offenses may not require registration, regardless of the age of the defendant.
Each state has its own listing of offenses that require registration. Some offenses, like statutory rape, is a sexual behavior that may require registration in one state, such as Florida, but not in another state, such as California.
To complicate matters further, each state has sex crime laws that are slightly different. Minors who move from one state to another may find that their registration obligations change as they cross the border.
The amount of discretion that a judge has will depend on the state. Some states have strict statutes that give judges very little discretion. Others, like Ohio, give judges a lot of room to make their own decisions.
Minors who are tried for a sex crime as an adult and get convicted will be sentenced as an adult, as well. This includes sex offender registration requirements.
People under 18 years old can be tried as an adult or as a juvenile. Whether a minor accused of a sex offense is charged as an adult or a juvenile often depends on:
Young people without prior incidents and who are being accused of a relatively minor sexual offense are more likely to go through the juvenile justice system. In California, for example, minors under the age of 14 cannot be tried as adults.
Minors close to the age of 18, who have a criminal record, and who are being accused of a serious sex crime, however, are more likely to go through the traditional criminal justice system as an adult. The determination is made at a fitness hearing in the juvenile court.
Defendants facing allegations of a severe sex crime who are tried as an adult, rather than as a juvenile, are far more likely to be required to register as a sex offender if they get convicted. They are treated as adults both during trial and during sentencing, when sex offender registration requirements are determined.
In California, a minor’s sex offender registration obligations depend on whether they were tried as a juvenile or as an adult.
If the minor was charged as a juvenile, their case will be heard by the juvenile court.
Juvenile courts focus more on rehabilitating defendants than punishing them. Rather than being “convicted” and “found guilty,” juveniles receive an “adjudication” and can be found “delinquent.”
If a juvenile’s adjudication finds them delinquent, the juvenile court will hold a disposition hearing to determine a sentence. For a delinquency, the court can mandate sex offender treatment, probation, home confinement, or can incarcerate the minor.
While many adjudications lead to treatment programs and probation, cases involving severe sexual abuse or sexual assault can lead to the minor’s incarceration.
In California, if a minor is incarcerated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for a sex offense that requires registration, then they will have to register as a sex offender after they are released.
Sex offenses requiring registration are listed in California Penal Code 290.008. They include offenses like:
Sex offenses not listed in this statute do not require registration.
The registration requirement for juveniles is shorter than for adults, though. It lasts:
Once these minimums have been met, a petition can be filed to end the registration requirement. This would take them off of the sex offender registry for their juvenile sex offense.
In California, minors over the age of 14 can be tried as an adult for certain offenses. These offenses include numerous crimes involving sexual conduct.
Minors who are charged as an adult and who get convicted will face the same penalties that an adult would normally face, except for the death penalty. For many sexual offenses, those penalties can include the requirement that the minor register as an adult sex offender.
The registration requirement can last for:
Failing to register as a sexual offender is a crime. It can violate both state and federal law.
The federal law is the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. This Act included the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, also known as SORNA. SORNA is enforced by the Department of Justice, the main federal law enforcement agency.
SORNA created a database and a federal registration system for sex offenders across the United States. This database was designed to improve public safety through community notification by informing residents and local law enforcement about sex offenders in the area.
While it was made in the public interest, SORNA has been controversial. It has forced state sexual offender laws to conform to federal requirements. Those requirements are often inflexible. They have forced some states to include some sex offender registrants who may still be in high school and who have low recidivism rates.
 New York Correction Law 168-a.
 Michigan Compiled Laws 28.722(b) and 28.723.
 Florida Statute 943.0435 and 794.05.
 California Penal Code 290 PC.
 See In re T.M., 2016 Ohio 162 (Ohio Ct. App. 2016) (judge considered letter from victim’s parents, testimony from a mental health therapist, and behavioral record during sex offender treatment program, as well as the fact that there were multiple young victims and the minor’s position of authority over them).
 California Penal Code 290.008 PC (“Any person who… is discharged or paroled from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the custody of which he or she was committed after having been adjudicated a ward of the juvenile court… because of the commission or attempted commission of any offense described in subdivision (c) shall register in accordance with the Act”)
 California Penal Code 290.008(c) PC.
 California Penal Code 290.008(d) PC.
 California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) WIC.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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