Sex Crimes cases are always sensitive, because simply being accused of such an offense can tarnish a person’s reputation for a lifetime. However, an ongoing federal trial has escalated this to a new level: A 10-year-old boy is being charged for sex crimes in federal court for incidents that allegedly occurred on a U.S. military base. The way the case is being handled has some criminal law observers concerned.

According to reports, the boy has been accused of making inappropriate contact with boys who were younger than him. Since these acts are said to have occurred on a military base — federal property — prosecutors are pursuing federal sex crimes charges against the child.

In response to federal law enforcement’s action, some are suggesting that criminal court isn’t the proper venue to handle this boy’s case, if the accusations are true. According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, children who commit sexual assault are often victims of sexual abuse as well. As such, it may be more appropriate to take rehabilitative action, rather than pursue punishments that will affect this boy for his entire life. It’s reasonable to wonder whether or not the boy even understands what he is accused of doing and the potential legal implications.

Federal crimes are often considered more serious than state charges. Not only do prosecutors have the full weight of the federal government behind them, but the punishments for these charges are typically more severe. For example, if the 10-year-old boy is convicted, he will likely have to join the National Sex Offender registry. This label would follow him for the rest of his life.

Keeping all of this in mind, are federal criminal charges the appropriate way to handle this particular case?

Source: ACLU Blog of Rights, “Prosecution Is Not the Way to Save a 10-Year-Old Child,” Allison Frankel and Sarah Solon, Oct. 10, 2013