If a juvenile commits sexual assault against another minor on a military installation, who has the jurisdiction to prosecute? The federal government has exclusive legislative jurisdiction on many military installations because these are considered federal properties. As a result, local prosecutors lack the legal authority to apply state juvenile delinquency laws to minors living on military installations.
However, federal prosecutors routinely decline to prosecute juvenile-on-juvenile sexual assault cases, only taking on the most egregious ones. Consider that, in Texas alone, local-level prosecutors adjudicated 600 14-year-olds on sexual assault charges from 2011 to 2016, or an average of 120 per year. In contrast, the federal government prosecuted fewer than 300 juveniles of all ages across the entire country in 2008.
Congress passed legislation back in 1970, permitting the transfer of jurisdiction from federal prosecutors to the state level. However, local prosecutors aren’t required to take the cases. Some courts even say that state prosecutors can’t handle federal cases without formal jurisdictional transfer. Despite clear trends of non-prosecution in juvenile-on-juvenile sexual assault cases, the Department of Defense (DOD) has retroceded its exclusive legislative jurisdiction only a handful of times.
As a result, juvenile victims and perpetrators living on military installations have been unlikely to receive justice over the past 50 years. Fortunately, the Military Installation Non-Adult Offender Reform (MINOR) Act aims to change this.
Why Military Families Need the MINOR Act
The MINOR Act is a response to the knowledge that hundreds of minor victims have not received justice in recent years because of the preventable jurisdictional black hole surrounding these types of cases. Take the example of one military family that decided to live in on-post housing, thinking it was the safest place to raise their kids.
In 2010, the mother of the family discovered her 13-year-old stepson molesting her 10-year-old son in their home on the Fort Hood military base. She and her husband, an Army officer, reported the assault to the police and planned to press charges. However, because Fort Hood sits apart from the surrounding counties’ jurisdictions, and federal prosecutors tend to avoid cases like theirs, the family was left hanging.
The 13-year-old perpetrator was never charged with a crime, despite the mother’s eyewitness statement, her stepson’s confession, and a lengthy Army investigation concluding that aggravated sexual abuse had indeed been committed. The shattered family was given no victims service advocate, no lawyer to help navigate the complex legal situation, and no justice for the 10-year-old victim, who had suffered abuse at the hands of a family member for three years.
To add insult to injury, a social worker assigned to the case told the mother that, had she lived a few blocks away outside of the military installation, her stepson would have been taken into custody the very evening his offense was discovered.
This situation is just one example of juvenile crimes at Fort Hood. In fact, according to a document obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, 670 incidents of juvenile crimes were reported on this military base from 2010 to 2015, including a dozen sex crimes. A separate memo details even more sexual assaults—39 cases between 2006 and 2012—without a single federal juvenile delinquency prosecution and only a handful of referrals to local prosecutors.
Clearly, the complex jurisdictional arrangement between military, federal, state, and county authorities leads to inconsistent prosecution of juveniles who commit crimes against other minors on military bases. Something has to change.
What is the MINOR Act?
The issue of sexual assault in the military has led to numerous reforms over the years. Yet, relatively little attention has been given to sexual assault among juveniles living on military installations. This remains true even though teenagers account for more than a third of sex offenses against other teens or children on a national level. The MINOR Act aims to remove the jurisdictional black hole of juvenile-on-juvenile crimes on military bases and ensure justice for the families involved.
Representatives John Carter (TX-31), Roger Williams (R-TX-25), and Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) reintroduced this bipartisan bill in September 2020 after the original bill died in committee in 2018. It will require the DOD to hand over the jurisdiction of juvenile-on-juvenile crimes on military bases to civilian authorities. A centralized policy will eliminate the inconsistent and sometimes haphazard way the military currently deals with such cases.
Under the MINOR Act, Representative Carter asserts, perpetrators will face consequences and victims will receive justice. After all, families of servicemen and women already face many challenges associated with military life—worrying about the safety of their children on military installations shouldn’t be one of them.
Seek Representation from a Military Lawyer
Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law has years of experience providing legal counsel for service members and families living on military installations. Whether you need defense against allegations of juvenile-on-juvenile sexual assault, or you’re seeking justice for your child, we can represent you. Our firm will work tirelessly on your family’s behalf to ensure your case is treated fairly and justly.