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SJC Affirms Juvenile Delinquency Finding in Statutory Rape Case

gavel-1238036-300x201In Commonwealth v. Wilbur W., the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a juvenile defendant’s adjudication as delinquent for having committed statutory rape, rejecting the juvenile’s contention “that this was a case of juvenile experimentation among peers rather than a case of sexual abuse.”

The background was as follows. At the time of the incident in question, the victim was eight years old and the juvenile was twelve years old. The boys’ families lived in the same neighborhood and the boys were friends. During a sleepover at the victim’s home, “[t]he juvenile instructed the victim to ‘pull down [his] pants’ so that [the juvenile] could put his ‘penis’ in the victim’s ‘butt.’ The victim was ‘shivering’ and ‘scared.’…. The juvenile pulled down his own pants, and told the victim to put his mouth on the juvenile’s penis. The victim complied for ‘two seconds’ because the juvenile was ‘bigger,’ and [the victim] was afraid of what the juvenile would do to him. The juvenile then inserted his penis in the victim’s ‘butt.’…. The victim revealed the occurrence of the incident to his family the next day. The defendant was charged with rape of a child with force and at the trial, “[t]he jury returned delinquency findings on the lesser included offense of statutory rape.” On appeal, the defendant contended (1) “that his adjudication of delinquency violate[d] his right to [substantive] due process … because the Legislature did not intend to impose strict liability [for statutory rape] on a person below the age of sixteen,” who “ha[d] limited capacity to make reasoned choices or to understand the consequences of his or her behavior”; (2) that the statutory rape statute (G.L. c.265, §23) “fosters arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement and is therefore void for vagueness” under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) “that he was unfairly selected for prosecution in violation of his right to equal protection under the law.”

In its decision, the SJC first addressed the juvenile’s substantive due process argument and concluded that the juvenile was “unable to overcome the presumption that the Legislature acted reasonably and rationally in imposing strict liability for anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child under the age of sixteen. There is a rational basis for protecting all children from sexual abuse, whether the offender is an adult or a juvenile under the age of sixteen.” Moreover, the Court rejected “the juvenile’s characterization of the incident as that of consensual sexual experimentation.” “To the contrary,” stated the Court, “the record at trial indicates that the juvenile was the aggressor” and that the victim complied with the juvenile’s directives out of fear.

As to the juvenile’s contention that the purported vagueness of G.L. c.265, §23, had led to arbitrary enforcement of the statute against him rather than the similarly situated victim, the SJC stated, “We discern no hint of arbitrary enforcement here, because the prosecutor reasonably could have concluded that the juvenile was not a victim of a sexual assault.” “Although we agree with the juvenile’s observation that it is possible that a juvenile under the age of sixteen could be both a victim and an offender in a statutory rape case, those circumstances are not presented here.”

Finally, the Court rejected the juvenile’s selective enforcement challenge, opining that “there is no showing here that the only distinction between the charged and uncharged participants in [purportedly] consensual sexual conduct was some type of impermissible classification such as gender, race, or religion.”

Juvenile defense is a particularly important area of the law, as a finding of juvenile delinquency may substantially shape a juvenile defendant’s life and impact his or her future involvement in the criminal justice system.  If you or a loved is facing a charge as a juvenile, it is of the utmost importance that you have an attorney who has a full understanding of juvenile defense and who can come up with creative and persuasive arguments to prevent a finding of juvenile delinquency.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta practices in both juvenile and adult court and will clearly and cogently present his legal arguments to the court to get the best possible result for your case. Call him today for a free consultation.