By: Isabel Ranney

Those under 18 generally receive the benefit of expungement in the criminal justice system of Arizona. If someone stole or got caught underaged drinking while they were still a child, for most criminal record checks, the minor’s record no longer can be used against him or her as soon as the clock strikes midnight on his or her 18th birthday. But some crimes, especially sex crimes, do not go away and can haunt the minor child into adulthood.

In Arizona, the age of the alleged victim is critical, with age 15 as the threshold for comparison (i.e., is the victim under or over age 15). A.R.S. § 13-1405(B). Sexual conduct with any person below age 15, whether they be 14 and 11 months, or 3 months old, is a class 2 felony. This means that a sexual relationship between a senior in high school who just turned 18 and a freshman who is 14 may result in the 18-year-old being charged with public sexual indecency, sexual abuse, sexual conduct with a minor, and/or molestation of a child. Id.; A.R.S. § 13-705; A.R.S. §13-1407(E); [1]. Such charges could result in the accused having to register as a sex offender for life. A.R.S. § 13-3821(D)-(F). This is not to mention the collateral consequences of sex offender registration, which includes requirements to maintain distance from other children.

Of course, some of the crimes for which juveniles become registered sex offenders are less simple. Take, for example, the case of Josh Gravens [2]. Josh was twelve in 1999 when his mother discovered he had inappropriately touched his eight-year-old sister— “touching” which Josh says was playful and not sexually motivated. Josh’s mother reported the behaviors to a Christian counseling center, who abided by its mandatory reporting requirement and informed the police. Josh was arrested and spent three and a half years in Texas’ juvenile justice system. Because the alleged victim was under 14 (the threshold age in Texas), the contact was considered aggravated sexual assault[EC1] . Josh remained on the sex offender registry until he was 25, though he was supposed to remain there until age [EC2] 31 [3]. Josh, an Arizona State University graduate, has never reoffended and is now known in Texas for his advocacy about the harms of placing juveniles of sex offender registries [4].

In recent years, there has been an influx of juveniles being investigated for “sexting crimes” [5]. In Arizona, child pornography is classified as “sexual exploitation of a minor” and is a class 2 felony but becomes “a dangerous crime against children” if the alleged victim is under 15. A.R.S. §§ 13-3553; 13-705. When two minors are “sexting,” for example a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, they both risk being charged with possession of child pornography, although they will most likely be charged for a “sexting” crime under A.R.S. § 8-309. However, if either minor has in their possession child pornography that they downloaded from the internet, they likely face child pornography possession charges, which may lead to registration requirements.

The Sex Offender Registry was created to keep track of persons convicted of sex crimes that would purportedly help protect children and families. The United States’ registry was started in 2006 in response to the abduction and murder of six-year-old Adam Walsh [6]. The purpose of the registry is to “protect children from sexual exploitation and violent crime, to prevent child abuse and child pornography, to promote Internet safety, and to honor the memory of Adam Walsh and other child crime victims” [7]. It was not designed to punish children, but to protect them. 

Whatever the crime, a majority of juveniles should not be placed on the sex offender registry or, at the very least, their records should be clear as soon as they turn 18, as is the case with most juvenile offenses. The examples with the sexting minors and the case of Josh Gravens demonstrate instances where the “criminals” are not sexual deviants but rather, may just need to better understand the prophylactic boundaries set by the laws of the state where they reside. True, there will always be outliers. There may be a rogue 17-and-a-half-year-old who committed a crime so egregious that imprisonment and significant sex offender registry requirements may be appropriate when considering the circumstances. But the majority of juveniles that are labeled as “sex offenders” are not likely to reoffend and placement on the registry only harms their chances to secure jobs in the future and to maintain relationships with people their own age [8]

Isabel (she/her) is a 3L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She graduated summa cum laude from Barrett, the Honors College at ASU with degrees in Political Science and Criminology and Criminal Justice and a certificate in Homeland Security. She is passionate about the intersection between family law and criminal law, particularly dependency adjudication.

[1] Arizona does have a Romeo and Juliet law, which may apply where the minor is 15 or older, the defendant is no more than two (2) years older than the minor and the defendant is under age 19 or attending high school. A.R.S. § 13-1407(E).




[5] Reid McEllrath, Keeping up with Technology: Why a Flexible Juvenile Sexting Statute is Needed to Prevent Overly Severe Punishment in Washington State, 89 Wash. L. Rev. 1009 (2014).