Public Safety

16-year-old Fairfax boy accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl asks judge to move case to juvenile court

CEDAR RAPIDS — A juvenile court officer testified Wednesday that a 16-year-old boy, charged with sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl last year, would have time to complete sex offender treatment before turning 18 if the case was moved to juvenile court.

A lawyer for Dionte G. Fliss of Fairfax, charged with third-degree sexual abuse, asked a judge to move the case from adult court to juvenile court, arguing it would “alter his life forever” if he is found guilty in adult court, where he would face a 10-year prison sentence and have to register as a sex offender.

Fliss is accused of sexually abusing the 15-year-old girl Oct. 13, 2019, in Fairfax. The girl told authorities that Fliss forced her to perform a sex act against her will, according to a criminal complaint.

The charge was filed in adult court because it’s a forcible felony, which are excluded from juvenile court, unless a district court judge transfers the case to juvenile court for good cause, according to Iowa Code 803.6.

The Linn County District Court hearing Wednesday was the first in-person hearing for a felony case under the new guidelines ordered by the Iowa Supreme Court last week to help prevent and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner, the prosecution and defense, court reporter and a witness wore face shields and face masks. Social distancing was required for everyone else in the courtroom.

Valerie Dufoe, a juvenile court officer, testified Fliss was given two assessments and scored low on the possibility to offend. She said she believed he would cooperate with treatment, even though he has denied the allegation.

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Dufoe would recommend outpatient treatment for him, which usually takes six to nine months, but she said Fliss could complete it in five to seven months.

Dufoe said Fliss is an honor roll student, involved in sports and a student leadership program, has no mental health issues or previous criminal history and has a supportive family, all of whom would help him in his rehabilitation.

Dufoe said 95 percent of juveniles who go through sex offender treatment and programming don’t reoffend.

Sara Smith, Fliss’ lawyer, argued if Fliss goes through adult court, his life will be impacted and could ruin his “dreams of obtaining a scholarship and going to college.”

The prosecution can’t show that there isn’t time for rehabilitation in juvenile court, Smith said. Dufoe said there is “ample” time. Juvenile court is in the “best interest of a child.”

She also said that if the reported offense on Oct. 13 had occurred a week earlier, he would have been 15 years old, and the case would have directly gone to juvenile court.

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden argued there was more time for rehabilitation in adult court, and a district judge has broader options for sentencing. Fliss, if convicted, could receive a deferred judgment, suspended sentence and probation or prison time. Probation could be ordered for up to five years, which would ensure time for rehabilitation.

In juvenile court, Fliss may not be able to complete treatment before turning 18, Vander Sanden said. It’s not uncommon that trials are reset more than once, especially during the coronavirus health crisis.

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Vander Sanden said the nature of the offense also should be considered. The allegation is sexual assault, and he didn’t think it was fair to only talk about rehabilitation because “some measure of punishment may be an appropriate outcome.”

Judge Turner said he would file a written ruling in the next day or two.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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