Rape Case Puts Juvenile Sex Crimes in the Spotlight

It was a case that ripped a town apart, a case which may have never existed without social media. Two teenage football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were charged with the rape of teen girl who was too intoxicated to consent or protest. The perpetrators may never have been caught, except that they boasted about their antics via text messaging while the sexual assault occurred and they posted pictures online.  The sheer callousness of committing a sexual assault in front of others and then posting photographic evidence was, for some, an indication that they were just boys being boys--that they didn't realize what they were doing was a crime. For others, their actions pointed to a sense of entitlement and a belief that they could get away with anything. The crime and ensuing trial made national headlines. The 16- and 17-year-old defendants were adjudicated delinquent--the juvenile equivalent of a guilty verdict. Trent Mays, 17, was sentenced to at least one year in a juvenile correctional facility for the digital penetration of the victim and an additional year for distribution of obscene images involving the intoxicated girl and her assault. Ma'lik Richardson, 16, was sentenced to at least one year in a juvenile jail. Both boys could be held until they are 21, and both are required to register for life as sex offenders. The sex crime defense lawyer for Richardson made headlines himself when he said he planned to appeal, saying that lifetime sex offender registration is too harsh a penalty for his 16-year-old client because the teen's brain is not fully developed: "I don't believe that a person at 75 years old should have to explain for something they did at 16 when scientific evidence would support your brain isn't fully developed ... when evidence in the case would suggest that you were under the influence." Though reporters and others were quick to mock the attorney's assertion, the fact is that his claim is backed by science. The frontal lobe of the brain--the region responsible for judgement, planning, risk assessment, and decision making--is the last area of the brain to develop fully. Researchers say the frontal lobe is not fully developed until an adult is in his 20's or even 30's. The scientific reasoning that a teenager's brain is not fully developed is the basis for the Supreme Court's abolition of the death penalty for juvenile offenders. The court ruled that "it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed." Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that keeps a separate registry for juvenile sex offenders and adult sex offenders. Unlike the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry for adults, which is offense-based, the juvenile sex offender registry is risk-based. Few juvenile sex offenders in Oklahoma are actually required to register, because the rate of recidivism is so low. A University of Oklahoma pediatrics professor and child sexual abuse expert says that the motivation behind juvenile sex crimes is generally very different than the motivation for adult sex crimes. Rather than being prompted by violence, control, and dominance, juvenile sex crimes are usually motivated by curiosity, lack of impulse control, and poor decision making. Impulsivity and decision-making, again, are two areas which are governed by the frontal lobe which is not yet fully developed in teen offenders. For more information on juvenile sex crimes or to find a sex crime defense lawyer in Oklahoma, visit our criminal defense website at Oklahoma-Criminal-Defense.com. Submit a confidential case review form to schedule a free consultation with one of Oklahoma's top defense attorneys.

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