Maryland juvenile sex offenses have long-term consequences

Children are being locked up behind bars until they are 18 and then civilly committed to state hospitals until the government determines they are "safe" to be released back into the community. Yes, they have committed sexual offenses, but non-violent juveniles who are unlikely to make the same mistakes twice should not be warehoused on the possibility they will return to bad behavior.

Thomas Simmons was sent to juvenile detention at the age of 13 for sexually assaulting a younger relative. At 17, Simmons became the youngest person civilly committed to South Carolina's adult violent sex offender treatment program indefinitely. Now 21 years old, Simmons is asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to release him.

However, experts disagree on whether Simmons is ready for release. The state Attorney General's Office's expert says Simmons is still dangerous. On the other hand, a psychologist at the sex offender commitment center where Simmons is being housed says Simmons should be released because he has shown no signs of violent sexual behavior for at least eight years.

Mr. Simmons' situation is not unique. From research compiled by the Defender Association of Philadelphia, more than 10 states have some type of juvenile sex offender civil commitment procedure. In the four states that track their procedures and responded to information requests, at least 52 adults are presently committed as sex offenders for an indefinite time period because of sex crimes they committed as juveniles.

Mental health expert recommendations

Though juvenile sex offenders are often described by prosecutors as long-term dangers to society, mental health experts often disagree. Experts have repeatedly expressed concerns over the indefinite civil commitment of adults for juvenile sex crimes. In their view, the fact a juvenile committed a sex offense is not a clear indicator the juvenile will grow up to be a violent sex offender. Kids make mistakes.

Mark Chaffin, a director at the Center for Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center said, "A very small number of kids are really likely to do horrible things, ... If you want to protect the public, the price you pay is that you will harm probably a larger number of children who are not going to commit crimes . . . . That's what no one really wants to face."

Maryland juvenile sex offense sentencing

The purpose of juvenile courts is to assist in the rehabilitation of delinquent youth, not to punish them like adults. However, Maryland juveniles who commit certain serious sex offenses can be tried as adults. For a 16-year-old, those offenses include second-degree rape or sex offense (or attempt), as well as third-degree sex offense. For a 14-year-old, the offenses include first-degree rape or attempted first-degree rape, as well as first-degree sex offense or attempted first-degree sex offense.

A person found delinquent of first or second-degree rape, or first or second-degree sexual assault, as a juvenile will be required to register as a sex offender once the juvenile court loses jurisdiction over them (usually at 21 years old). However, the person must have been at least 13 when they committed the qualifying act, the State's Attorney or the Department of Juvenile Services must request registration and the court must agree.

The consequences of a juvenile sex offense can be long lasting and life altering. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a juvenile sex offense, contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney to discuss your situation and your options.