Juvenile Justice

Boy prosecuted for sex crime at age 10 is subject of 9th Circuit appeal

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A federal appeals court is considering the constitutionality of a federal aggravated-sexual-abuse statute used to prosecute a boy for sex acts committed when he was 10 years old.

The boy was judged delinquent two years ago for engaging in sex acts with five other boys on an Arizona Army base in violation of the law, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. The other boys were between the ages of 5 and 7. The law makes it illegal to engage in a sex act with a person younger than 12, but does not specify how old the offender must be.

The boy was sentenced to probation and is receiving psychological counseling. He also must register as a sex offender in some states, according to his public defender, Keith Hilzendeger.

Hilzendeger argues the delinquency finding should be overturned because the federal law is vague and doesn’t give guidance when the alleged offender is younger than 12. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case last month.

“I think this is really overreaching on the part of the government,” Hilzendeger told the Wall Street Journal. He said he has “never heard of a federal case where a person is 10.”

Some state courts have had to grapple with similar issues, the story says. In 2007 the Utah Supreme Court overturned a delinquency finding against a 13-year-old girl who had consensual sex with a 12-year-old boy. In Colorado, five people found delinquent for sex crimes as teens have challenged a law that requires them to register as sex offenders as adults. One of the plaintiffs had been accused of repeatedly trying to hug a girl when he was 13 years old. The suit was filed last month.

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