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.
- Legal decision-making in child sexual abuse investigations: A mixed-methods study of factors that influence prosecution: Duron (2018)
- The effects of transfer laws on youth with sexual or robbery offenses: Rinehart, Armstrong, Shields, & Letourneau (2016)
- Description and processing of individuals found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder accused of serious violent offences: Crocker, Seto, Nicholls, & Cote (2015)
- Dynamic and static factors associated with discharge dispositions: The national trajectory project of individuals found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) in Canada: Crocker, Nicholls, Charette, & Seto (2014)
- Expensive, harmful policies that don't work or how juvenile sexual offending is addressed in the U.S.: Letourneau & Caldwell (2013)
- Sex offender registration and notification policy increases juvenile plea bargains: Letourneau, Armstrong, Bandyopadhyay, & Sinha (2013)
- To detain or to release? Correlates of dispositions for individuals declared not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder: Crocker, Braithwaite, Cote, Nicholls, & Seto (2011)
- Changing approaches of prosecutors towards juvenile repeated sex offenders: A Bayesian evaluation: Bandyopadhyay, Sinha, Lipsitz, & Letourneau (2010)
- The effects of sex offender registration and notification on judicial decisions: Letourneau, Levenson, Bandyopadhyay, Armstrong, & Sinha (2010)
- Legal consequences of juvenile sex offending in the United States: Letourneau (2006)
- Juvenile sex offenders: A case against the legal and clinical status quo: Letourneau & Miner (2005)
- Judges' knowledge about sexual offenders, difficulties presiding over sexual offense cases, and opinions on sentencing, treatment, and legislation: Bumby & Maddox (1999)
- Relationship to victim predicts sentence length in sexual assault cases: McCormick, Maric, Seto, & Barbaree (1998)
- The influence of remorse, intent, and attitudes toward sex offenders on judgments of a rapist: Hogue & Peebles (1997)
- Sex offender risk assessment and disposition planning: A review of empirical and clinical findings: McGrath (1991)