People can commit crimes at any age. This includes sex crimes.
Our legal system gives some special consideration to juvenile offenders—those younger than 18 years. Given they are not fully developed yet, courts sometimes grant sentences designed to lessen the disruption of their young lives. These sentences can focus on rehabilitation, while still punishing them for their malfeasance.
Sex crimes are no different. Minors can and do commit sex crimes. These types of crimes can have life-long reputational and legal ramifications. In Washington state, though, the legislature and the courts have offered ways to mitigate or even prevent long-term consequences to juveniles who commit sex crimes.
One of the juvenile legal options parallels an option for adult sex offenders, the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative. SSOSA’s are only available to adults; the alternative program for juveniles is called the Special Sex Offender Disposition Alternative (SSODA) because “disposition” is the Washington term for juvenile sentencing. SSODA grants a juvenile the ability to get the treatment they need without suffering harsh or long-term consequences. If successful in SSODA, they can enter adulthood with a clean record. But getting a SSODA disposition requires specific circumstances and often skilled legal advocacy.
Background of the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative
The Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative, or SSOSA, spares an adult long incarceration in exchange for requiring rigorous sex offender treatment. RCW 9.94A.670 codifies SSOSA; it has been amended multiple times since its enactment in 1984. Courts most often grant SSOSA’s for sex crimes against children; it is quite rare for a SSOSA to be given when the victim is an adult. SSOSA’s were once granted readily, but the legal requirements for SSOSA have tightened, and courts have become reluctant to give them in many cases. Vigorous and skilled legal advocacy is often essential now to obtain one.
SSODA, the version for juveniles, was created in 1990 as a part of the Community Protection Act.
Basics of a SSOSA
A SSOSA is granted alongside a suspended prison sentence. The prison sentence is within the standard sentencing range for the charged crime (usually at the high end of the range). If the SSOSA is revoked, the defendant immediately starts serving their prison sentence, without trial.
The low end of the standard sentencing range must not be greater than 11 years for a person to receive a SSOSA. The vast majority of SSOSA’s are given to first-time offenders, persons without a prior conviction (adult or juvenile). An extensive psychosexual evaluation must be undergone before a SSOSA is granted. The evaluation aims to see if the candidate suffers from a sexual compulsion that would be aided by specialized treatment and whether the person can be safely treated outside prison.
Basics of the SSODA
The Special Sex Offender Disposition Alternative has many similarities with SSOSA. They both allow the defendant to forgo part of their sentence (or “disposition”) in exchange for treatment. To be eligible for SSODA:
- The youth must have no previous sex offense disposition,
- Treatment must be attainable while living at home or in an alternative community placement,
- There must be an available and willing state-certified treatment provider, and
- Treatment must be possible with minimal risk to the community
The treatment costs are paid by the state. This contrasts with SSOSA, where treatment costs must come out of the defendant’s pocket. SSODA is administered at a county level. This means that every county can have its own rules and procedures related to SSODA. This is another reason skilled and thorough legal counsel can make a big difference in obtaining and then succeeding in SSODA.
The law instructs courts to consider carefully a victim’s opposition to a SSODA (or SSOSA) sentence. This means part of the defense attorney’s job is to do whatever they can to obtain the victim’s support for SSODA, or at least the victim’s neutrality on SSODA.
Restrictions and Revocations
If a SSODA is obtained, it comes with some strict conditions, such as no unsupervised internet use, no contact with the victim through any means, no criminal violations, regular work or school attendance, and travel restrictions.
Violating any of the conditions, or failing to make significant progress in treatment, can lead to a thirty-day confinement or even to the court’s revoking the SSODA. If a SSODA is revoked, the youth is sent to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration to serve the custodial sentence that had been suspended.
But if the youth does well in treatment and obeys SSODA conditions, they can, in most cases, have their court file sealed and be relieved of the obligation to register as a sex offender. They can then enter adulthood with a clean slate.
Although SSODA usually lasts two years, some young persons are able, though vigorous work in treatment, to complete it in less time.
How can you know if a SSODA is right for the teen in your family?
SSODA is a way for a juvenile guilty of a sex crime to get the treatment they need while avoiding long-term damage to their reputation. But the treatment is long, hard, and emotionally draining, and it requires rigorous introspection and candor.
SSODA is not for the innocent. Persons who don’t have sexual behavior problems do not belong in sex offender treatment and, if found there, will likely be bounced out of treatment and into their suspended JRA sentences. The innocent should take their cases to trial.
For someone under 18 who has committed a sex offense, SSODA is a great opportunity. But obtaining a SSODA is not easy. One’s chances are best with a skilled legal team, one that is knowledgeable about the law and willing to take the time to learn much about the youth and the offense.
At the Marshall Defense Firm, we have years of experience defending those accused of sex crimes. If a SSODA is possible for the teen in your family and is their choice, we will pursue it with vigor and skill.
Contact us at 206.826.1400 or email@example.com to schedule a consultation.