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Juvenile Sex Offense Cases

The difference in procedure and intent in sex offense cases between adults and juveniles is quite pronounced. While punishments for adults who are tried and found guilty of sex crimes focus on penalization and removal from society, juveniles are treated differently.

Instead of focusing on punishment, Iowa attempts to penalties for juveniles found guilty of sex crimes including rehabilitation methods. However, there are some instances in which juveniles can still be tried as adults.

This guide will explain what happens in a juvenile sex offense case.

Juvenile Defense Lawyers in Polk County, Iowa

The experienced attorneys at McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. are committed to protecting the rights and privacy of juvenile clients, employing a tailored approach to each case. Our attorneys prioritize rehabilitation over punishment, advocating for diversionary programs and tailored interventions to address underlying issues. Trust us to navigate the complexities of juvenile defense with expertise and empathy.

If you or a loved one have a child who is accused of a sex crime, call (515) 279-9700 now to set up your first consultation for free.

Juvenile Delinquency Overview

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Adult Sex Offense Cases
Repercussions for adults found guilty of a sex offense vary greatly across the spectrum. Some offenses, such as public indecency, may be met with a simple misdemeanor. Other charges, such as sexual assault or abuse of a minor, are met with harsher sentences, which can range to as much as 50 years in prison per charge.

In a typical case, law enforcement will gather evidence, receive, and execute an arrest warrant, and eventually try and sentence the adult. This is a broad overview but captures the broad strokes of an adult court case.

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Juvenile Delinquency Cases

What is a juvenile? What is a child?

Iowa Code 232.2 defines a juvenile (here, child) as any person under 18 years of age. That same code is responsible for outlining the legal steps to trying and handling cases related to children in Iowa. Similarly, and perhaps contradictingly, Iowa Code 702.5 defines a child (in regard to sex crimes) as 14 years of age. The legal age of consent is 16 in Iowa.

Broadly, children are not tried as adults are; instead, they are ‘adjudicated’ at a disposition hearing. Some cases, such as tobacco, traffic, and other simple misdemeanor offenses are not heard at juvenile court and are instead handled by the magistrate court.
The following steps are what you can expect if your child has been accused of a sex crime.


The first step in the juvenile defense case is intake. If your child has been accused of a sex crime, a juvenile court officer will collect information and evidence from all parties involved. In smaller cases, the officer may be limited to taking statements and moving forward from there.

With harsher accusations like sexual abuse, continuous sexual abuse, or other crimes, the court officer may ensure that rape kits are used, and may take additional biological information like DNA samples or fingerprint scans.


If the juvenile court officer believes that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a full court case, then the child will be sent to an “informal adjustment’ proceeding or ‘adjudication.’ If the crime is small enough, your child will simply be sent to ‘informal adjustment’. This type of hearing will not create a permanent record and is a way to discipline the child without preventing future opportunities for employment and education.


However, if the court believes that there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation, your child will be required to attend adjudication, which is a decision hearing. At adjudication, a judge will review evidence and listen to arguments as to whether or not your child violated the law.


If your child is found to have committed the crime he or she is accused of then they will be required to attend a disposition hearing. The most important thing to note is that, even if your child is guilty of committing the crime, the result of adjudication does not count as being convicted of a crime. The result of adjudication cannot be used as evidence in another case, or disbar your child from any civil service appointment or application in the future. This does not, however, hold true if your child is found guilty of a felony or aggravated misdemeanor.

Similar to a sentencing hearing in an adult case, a disposition hearing is where a judge will order remedies, which could include some of the following:

  • Paying for damages
  • Community service
  • Transfer to an alternative education environment
  • Sex education classes

In the case of sex offenses, the key elements that decide whether a juvenile will be tried as an adult are the age of the defendant and the nature of the crime.

Children under 14 years of age cannot be tried as adults, except in the most serious of circumstances. Minors between the ages of 16 and 18 who commit a ‘forcible felony’ will automatically be tried in adult court.

These felonies include, but are not limited to sexual assault, assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse, and sexual abuse of a minor under the age of 14.

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Types of sex offenses

Iowa has three tiers of sexual offenses. A conviction of a tier 3 offense is enough to try to child as an adult and require registration onto the Sex Offender Registry.

Tier 1:

  • Sex acts with a person under the age of 12 when the offender is a juvenile under the age of 14.
  • Sex acts done by force or without valid consent when the offender is under the age of 14.
  • Sexual abuse of a family or household member when the offender is fourteen or fifteen years old.
  • Indecent exposure.
  • Sexually motivated harassment.
  • Sexually motivated stalking. (In some cases, stalking is in a higher sex offense tier.)
  • Any sexually motivated indictable assault committed against a minor.
  • Sexually motivated pimping against a minor or involving a minor.
  • Sexually motivated pandering.
  • Sexually-motivated indictable offenses against family or dependent persons involving a minor.
  • Disseminating or exhibiting obscene material to minors.
  • Renting or selling hard-core pornography to minors.
  • Admitting minors to premises where obscene material is exhibited.
  • Possession of child pornography.

Tier 2:

  • Lascivious acts with a child
  • Soliciting a minor to engage in an illegal sex act.
  • False imprisonment of a minor by someone other than a parent.
  • Assault with intent to commit sexual abuse (no injury.)
  • Invasion of privacy — nudity.
  • Sexually motivated stalking of a specific person under the age of 18.
  • Indecent contact with a child who is thirteen years old.
  • Lascivious conduct with a minor.
  • Sexual exploitation by a counselor, therapist, or school employee of a victim thirteen years old or older.
  • Sexual abuse of a corpse.
  • Sexually motivated kidnapping of someone who is not a minor.
  • Pandering.
  • Incest against a dependent adult or a minor.
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor.

Tier 3:

  • Murder if sexual abuse is committed during the offense.
  • Sexually motivated murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder.
  • Assaultive penetration of the genitalia or anus with an object.
  • First degree sexual abuse.
  • Second degree sexual abuse involving the display of a dangerous weapon or use or threats of use of force.
  • Sexual abuse of someone under the age of 12 by an offender age 14 or older.
  • Sex acts done by force or without valid consent when the offender is 14 years old or older.
  • Lascivious acts with a child.
  • Performing or participating in sexual abuse while perpetrating burglary.
  • Sexually motivated burglary or attempted burglary.
  • Human trafficking involving sexual abuse or assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.
  • Sexually motivated purchase or sale of people.
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor.
  • Indecent contact with a child under the age of thirteen.
  • Sexual exploitation by a counselor, therapist, or school employee of a child under the age of thirteen.
  • Sexually motivated child stealing.
  • Enticing a minor with the intent to commit sexual abuse, exploitation, contact, or conduct.

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Sexting Laws

Sexting, or the passing of pornographic or nude photos between two parties, is common among teenagers. While there is significant debate as to the social and reputational dangers of delivering sending graphic content digitally, it is Iowan law that the distribution of photos of a minor is illegal.

While it is technically legal for children from the age of 14 and higher to engage in sexual activity so long as they are within 4 years of each other, the distribution of nude photos of any person under the age of 18 is illegal. This means that sending nude photos, even between consenting teenagers, is illegal under Iowa Code 728.2.

Additionally, sending unsolicited images to anyone is a form of harassment that can result in placement on the sex offender registry – and the consequences are even harsher for anyone sending nude images to children. This includes images sent by someone 18 or older to someone below 18, and someone below the age of 18 to someone 13 and younger.

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One crucial difference between juvenile and adult cases is the level of confidentiality afforded to juveniles. Iowa law protects the identity and records of juvenile offenders to shield them from the potential long-term consequences of their actions.

In sex offense cases, the court prioritizes privacy to ensure the juvenile’s future opportunities are not unduly compromised by a single mistake. Adult criminal cases, on the other hand, are generally more transparent, with proceedings and records accessible to the public.

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Right to Legal Defense

Juveniles, like adults, have the right to legal representation in Iowa. However, the process and consequences differ. Juvenile defense attorneys work to protect the rights of the child, ensuring a fair and developmentally appropriate legal process. The focus is on guiding the juvenile through the system while advocating for rehabilitative measures.

In adult cases, the emphasis is on building a defense to challenge charges, reduce penalties, or secure acquittal.

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Sentencing and Rehabilitation

In Iowa, if a juvenile is found responsible for a sex offense, the court focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The emphasis is on providing interventions that address the root causes of the behavior. Sentences for juvenile offenders are often more lenient, involving probation, therapy, or placement in a juvenile facility with a rehabilitative focus. The goal is to guide the juvenile toward a positive, law-abiding future.

Contrastingly, adult criminal cases involve a more punitive approach. If convicted of a sex offense, an adult offender faces the possibility of imprisonment, fines, and mandatory registration as a sex offender. The adult criminal justice system prioritizes punishment as a deterrent and retribution, reflecting the societal expectation of accountability for criminal acts.

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Sex Offender Registry

While Iowa’s adult criminal justice system mandates the registration of sex offenders, the rules for juvenile offenders differ significantly. In many cases, juvenile sex offenders are not subject to public registration requirements. The emphasis is on rehabilitation, and the court aims to shield juveniles from the lifelong stigma associated with being labeled a sex offender.
However, the court may still impose registration requirements for certain serious cases or repeat offenses, but these are typically less severe than those imposed on adults.

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Hire a Juvenile Defense Lawyer in Polk County, Iowa | McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C.

Call us now at (515) 279-9700 to set up your first consultation for free. We accept clients throughout the greater Polk County and Dallas County area including Ankeny, Altoona, Johnston, Polk City, Pleasant Hill, Adel, Waukee, Perry and De Soto.

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