Justice Dept. Prosecutes 10-Year-Old as Sex Offender

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
(photo: U.S. Army)

The U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted a 10-year-old boy as a sex offender two years ago, it now has been revealed, sparking a debate about trying juveniles using laws intended for adult pedophiles.


In 2011, federal prosecutors won a delinquency finding against a boy accused of engaging in sex acts when he was 10 with five younger boys (ages 5-7) living at Fort Huachuca, an Army base in Arizona.  The child was one of the youngest defendants ever pursued by the Justice Department, according to The Wall Street Journal.


The boy was charged with violating a federal statute that outlaws sex acts with children under 12. He was sentenced to five years of probation, including mandatory psychological treatment, and he must register as a sex offender in certain states, according to his lawyer.


The boy’s legal defense appealed the verdict to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is reviewing the case. Although the records are sealed, preventing the identity of the boy from being exposed, an appellate hearing in September was open to the public, which brought the case to light.


“The boy’s appeal involves a thorny legal question: Should children be prosecuted for sex acts with other children under a federal law that the boy's lawyers say was designed to target adult predators? The fight also highlights a broader debate over tagging juveniles as criminal sex offenders, a label that can land them a spot on registries that track offenders and limit where they can live,” the Journal’s Zusha Elinson wrote.


Keith Hilzendeger, a federal public defender representing the boy, told the newspaper that he had “never heard of a federal case where a person is 10.”


“I think this is really overreaching on the part of the government,” he added. “Obviously, requiring a child under the age of 12 to register as a sex offender is inconsistent with the goals of rehabilitation that underlie the juvenile justice system.”


But Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Ferg said federal prosecutors took the case because of “the severity of the conduct” and the fact that the crime took place on a U.S. Army base.


“My opinion is this is the best thing that could’ve happened to the kid,” Ferg said, adding that the case included allegations of anal penetration, repetitive behavior and threats.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Federal Youth Case on Trial (by Zusha Elinson, Wall Street Journal)

How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems? (by Maggie Jones, New York Times)


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