November 17, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- New law prohibits expungement for Pennsylvania juvenile sex offenders
Pennsylvania law allows juvenile offenders to expunge a variety of items from their criminal records, even homicide. This option is based in a belief that those who commit crimes at a young age should be given a second chance.
This belief is not shared by everyone. In fact, it is at the root of a debate over a new law scheduled to take effect this December. The law prohibits expungement for rape, aggravated indecent assault or involuntary deviate sexual intercourse when the offense was committed by a juvenile age 14 or older.
Expungement normally happens when a child turns 18 and is a complicated process. When a record is expunged, it is completely destroyed. For anyone looking into a person's background, it would appear as if the crime never happened. In non-expunged cases, criminal court records are usually available to the public. The new law means anyone will be able to go to a local courthouse and see if an individual has been charged with or convicted of a sex offense as a child.
Adults with juvenile records often face significant barriers to education and employment opportunities. A record containing a sex offense presents even more difficult challenges. In addition to fewer educational and employment prospects, things such as public housing or professional licenses may also be more difficult to obtain.
Implementation of the new law, titled Act 91, is designed to comply with the Sexual Offenders Registration and Notification Act, which requires sex offenders to register in Pennsylvania. However, under the new law, even those who would not have to register as sex offenders cannot have their record expunged.
Law brings fairness concerns
There were initially concerns about hiding the fact that an individual committed a sex crime as a child. However, according to juvenile advocates, the potential disturbing consequences that could result from Act 91 outweigh these concerns.
A majority of children charged with sexual crimes are victims of abuse themselves, or are simply acting out sexually within their family. There is also an extremely small percentage of recidivism, which means juvenile offenders rarely reoffend as adults.
The children usually plead guilty because they know they have a later chance at expungement. In many cases, because the act occurs within the family, the guilty pleas come at the encouragement of the child's parents.
Under current expungement laws, between 600 and 800 juvenile records have been expunged since 2007. There are normally no issues with the district attorneys involved, since many believe the children should receive a second chance as well.
Criminal sexual charges on a record can have negative consequences that last a lifetime. If you or your child has been charged with a juvenile sex offense, it is important to consult with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who understands the unique concerns of juvenile defense.