The Alabama Court of Appeals recently reversed a conviction based on improper jurisdiction as exercised by the juvenile court over an adult defendant who was underage at the time of his alleged sex offense.
Defendant in the case of M.A.M. v. Alabama (whose identity was protected due to his age at the time of the offense) appealed the court’s conviction and sentencing of him to one year in the care of youth corrections services, as he was 24-years-old at the time he was charged.
However, the appeals court found the decision appropriate because defendant was 16 when he allegedly sexually abused the victim, who was then 6. When he allegedly committed that offense, the law stated the juvenile court held exclusive jurisdiction of proceedings in which a child is alleged to have been delinquent. A “child” under that statute was defined as anyone under 18, or in some cases 19. The law also state the juvenile court retains that jurisdiction until the child turns 21.
Defendant in this case was 24, meaning the juvenile court lost jurisdiction when defendant turned 21. Further, the appeals court ruled, there isn’t any express statement providing an exception to the loss of jurisdiction at age 21 if the offense doesn’t have a statute of limitations.
This defendant can’t be charged in adult court because he was not an adult at the time of the alleged offense. That basically means there is no way to charge him.
Our Birmingham sex crime defense attorneys know the legislature addressed this gap when it adopted the current Alabama Juvenile Justice Act, and repealed old statutes pertaining to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. The new law, codified in 12-15-114(b) Ala. Code 1975, holds the juvenile court has no jurisdiction over acts committed before an offender was 18 but not filed until after the offender’s 21st birthday – except when the offense has no statute of limitations (which would include sex offenses involving victims under the age of 16).
Under current law, defendant would be subject to prosecution in juvenile court. However, there was no indication in the new law that legislators intended for it to be applied retroactively.
According to court records, he allegedly sexually abused his step-sister, with whom he did not live, on occasions when the pair were in the same household together. Alleged victim did not immediately report these offenses, as she alleged he threatened to harm her and her family if she did so. It wasn’t until years later, when alleged victim saw defendant out at a restaurant and, later when he requested to connect with her on social media, that she decided to report the alleged crimes.
Defendant denied sexually abusing his step-sister and said his efforts to connect with her on social media were not romantically motivated.
The case was filed with the juvenile court, and defendant, age 24, was adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to one year of incarceration in a youth services facility. That was the maximum allowable sentence for the offender’s alleged crime and age at the time of the offense.
The appeals court reversed. The court noted the lack of remedy, but stated it was constrained to longstanding legal principles that the law in place at the time of the offense controls the standard by which the offender is judged.
The judgment was reversed and the case remanded, with a directive to dismiss the delinquency petition.