Fast Facts About Adjudication, Conviction, Sentencing, and the Courts

Fact 1: Adjudication and conviction are similar concepts. The exact meanings vary by jurisdiction.

In most cases, “adjudication” is a term used in juvenile court, while “conviction” is a term used in adult court. Someone who is tried in juvenile court for a criminal act and is found guilty is adjudicated for that crime. Someone who is found guilty in an adult court is convicted of that crime. Depending on the jurisdiction, the person’s age, and the crime involved, a juvenile could be tried in either juvenile or adult court.

Fact 2: Age of consent and adulthood vary by jurisdiction.

The age at which a jurisdiction considers someone able to give consent to a sexual act varies, but most typically ranges from 16 to 18. Anyone younger than that is not legally able to give consent. Sexual acts with someone under the age of consent typically are considered to be crimes. In like fashion, jurisdictions set different ages at which someone who commits a crime is considered to be an adult. This typically ranges from 17 to 18, although some jurisdictions are considering raising the age to 21. Many jurisdictions also make distinctions based on the age difference between the perpetrator and the victim. The greater the age difference, the more serious the crime.

Fact 3: Sentencing is imposed by the courts.

Regardless of whether a person is adjudicated in juvenile court or is convicted in adult court, it is ultimately up to the judge to determine the sentence the person will face for the crime. In some jurisdictions, judges must follow mandatory sentencing guidelines that may include listing a person on a sex offender registry; in others, there is more judicial discretion. Typically, there is more sentencing discretion in juvenile court proceedings than in adult court proceedings.

Fact 4: Mandatory registration for sex offenses does not increase public safety.

Most people who sexually offend know their victims and operate from a position of power or trust, such as family members, trusted family friends, babysitters, coaches, teachers, ministers, and others who oversee children. Stranger-on-stranger sexual abuse is extremely rare. Because most registries and residence restrictions are designed to minimize sexual assaults by strangers, such laws do little to protect against the more typical situation of sexual assault by someone the victim knows.

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The following citations reflect research, publications, and presentations by current ATSA members.

2018 ATSA Conference