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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: Sex Offender Laws and Registries

Sex Offender Laws and Registries: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 


  • Colorado Limits Placement of Youth on Adult Sex Offender Registry: Colorado changed its juvenile sex offender registration policies so that an individual will now be placed on either the adult or juvenile list depending on his or her age at the time of the incident, rather than the age at the time of adjudication. Prior law placed youth on the adult registry if they turned 18 before sentencing. The adult registry is more onerous and it takes longer to petition to be removed from it. S.B. 229/Act No. 272, signed into law May 25, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.
  • Delaware Gives Courts Discretion Over Placement of Certain Youth on Sex Offender Registry
    Delaware passed legislation that amends the automatic and mandatory registration of youth who are convicted of sex offenses. Delaware Family Court now has discretion to determine whether it is appropriate to place on the sex offender registry a child under the age of 14 who is adjudicated of a sex offense, or a youth between the ages of 14-17 who is adjudicated of a non-violent sex offense where the victim is not age five or younger. Family Court must hold a hearing to review potential risk factors, the nature and circumstances of the offense, victim impact, a comprehensive evaluation of the youth, treatment recommendations, a risk assessment, the likelihood of rehabilitation, and the adverse impacts of placing the youth on the public registry. The law also allows youth who are placed on the registry to apply for removal after two years from the date of adjudication or upon completion of treatment, whichever comes first. The law applies retroactively. The state public defender’s office has anecdotally reported that since the law’s passage, courts have been receptive to keeping youth off of registries. H.B. 182/Act No. 123, signed into law July 18, 2013; effective October 18, 2013.
  • Delaware Eliminates Fee for Electronic Monitoring of Youth Convicted of Certain Sex Offenses: Delaware passed legislation that removes a requirement that youth registered for more serious sex offenses pay the $240 per month cost of their electronic monitoring system. The law also forgives any outstanding balances for youth who were required to pay for their electronic monitoring system before the passage of this bill. Electronic monitoring of these youth had been the only case where youth on juvenile probation (or their families) were required to pay for treatment or support interventions. H.B. 80/Act No. 58, signed into law June 27, 2013; effective August 1, 2013.
  • Pennsylvania Court Finds Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Law Unconstitutional: The York County Court of Common Pleas found Pennsylvania’s recently enacted law requiring youth convicted of sexual offenses to register as sex offenders for life to be in violation of their constitutional rights. The court held that the requirement violated both the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions, as well as Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act. The court stated that such registration requirements are antithetical to the rehabilitative purpose of juvenile courts and do not take into account key differences between youth and adults, especially with regard to culpability and prospects for reform. The ruling banned application of the law both retroactively and prospectively, immediately declassified as “sex offenders” the seven petitioners who brought the challenge, and ordered the Pennsylvania State Police to immediately remove the seven youth from the state registry. Decided November 4, 2013; affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court December 2014.
  • South Carolina Prohibits Testimony from Lay Persons in Sex Offense Case: The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down the admission of testimony from two lay witnesses in a case involving a youth convicted of sex offenses. The lay witnesses had been allowed to testify as to whether the youth, upon release from the Department of Juvenile Justice, was dangerous and likely to reoffend, and should therefore be placed in a long-term secure facility for sexually violent predators. The court held that admission of such testimony from lay persons was prejudicial. In matter of Thomas S., 402 S.C. 373, 741 S.E.2d 27 (2013).
  • South Carolina — Court Rules Electronic Monitoring of Youth Convicted of Sex Offense Must Be Reviewable: A youth in South Carolina challenged the imposition of lifetime electronic monitoring after he pled guilty to a sex offense, arguing that the monitoring constituted cruel and unusual punishment because his young age would make lifetime monitoring especially severe. The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected his argument and held that such monitoring is not punishment, and therefore does not violate the state or federal constitutions. However, the court did mandate periodic judicial review to determine the necessity of continued monitoring, allowing the youth to petition for review ten years after the monitoring commenced. In the Interest of Justin B. 405 S.C. 391, 747 S.E.2d 774 (2013).

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  • California Limits Sex Offender Registration
    California modified existing law to remove specified offenses requiring registration as a sex offender from those provisions that allow the court, in certain circumstances, to retain jurisdiction over an individual until that person reaches his or her mid-20s (jurisdiction normally ends at age 21). The change applies retroactively. A.B. 1481/Act No. 342, signed into law and effective September 17, 2012.
  • North Carolina Refuses to Comply with Federal Registration Requirements for Youth Convicted of Sex Offenses: North Carolina did not comply with the registration requirements set forth by the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), including broad provisions applying to youth convicted of sex offenses. The state justified its refusal based on the costs to comply with the act: the expense of meeting SORNA’s requirements came to $14.7 million, compared with the $900,000 in federal funding that the state loses due to its lack of compliance. February, 2012. 
  • Ohio Supreme Court Declares Automatic Sex Offender Registration and Notification Unconstitutional: On April 3, 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court found the state’s statute requiring automatic lifetime sex offender registration and notification for youth unconstitutional and counter to the rehabilitative goal of the juvenile justice system. In a 5-2 ruling, the court found the statute’s automatic lifelong registration and the public notification requirements for youth adjudicated in juvenile court to be a violation of the 8th Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. In re C.P., Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-1446.
  • Rhode Island Creates Commission to Study Impact of SORNA Implementation: In response to strong pressure from advocates against legislation to comply with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), the Rhode Island Senate passed a resolution creating a study commission to examine the constitutional and fiscal implications of implementing SORNA’s mandates. The commission was extended by another resolution in 2013. S.R. 2572, passed Senate June 12, 2012; S.R. 998, passed Senate June 18, 2013.
  • Virginia Fails to Pass Bill Mandating Lifetime Registration for Youth Convicted of Certain Sex Offenses: Advocates in Virginia helped to defeat a bill that would have mandated lifetime registration for youth over the age of 13 convicted of certain sex offenses. The bill would have been applied retroactively. H.B. 624.

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  • Michigan — Legislature Removes Certain Youth from Sex Offender Registries: A new Michigan law removes all individuals from sex offender registries who were under the age of 14 at the time of their offenses. Additionally, those individuals who were 14 or 15 years old at the time of the offense will be moved to the private law enforcement registry for the duration of their mandated registration. Previously, youth ages 15 and younger were placed on the law enforcement-only registry, but then added, with limited exceptions, to the public registry when they turned 18, despite the fact that their offenses took place when they were underage. Youth charged with “age-only consensual” acts—in which there is no more than four years of age difference between the victim and the accused, and which involve a consenting victim—will no longer have to register. Lastly, existing age-only consensual registrants will have the opportunity to petition for removal from the registry. S.B. 188/P.A. 17, signed into law and effective April 12, 2011; S.B. 189/P.A. 18, signed into law April 12, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.
  • Ohio — Supreme Court Finds State’s Implementation of the Adam Walsh Act Unconstitutional: In June 2010, the Supreme Court of Ohio declared that the retroactive reclassification of sex offenders under Ohio’s S.B. 10 (the state’s attempt to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act) is an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers when the registrant (adult or juvenile) had previously been classified by a court order. State v. Bodyke, 126 Ohio St.3d 266 (2010). In July 2011, the Supreme Court of Ohio again addressed S.B. 10, finding that the registration duties imposed by S.B. 10 amount to punishment, and therefore cannot be constitutionally applied retroactively. State v. Williams, 129 Ohio St.3d 344 (2011). Another case that may impact Ohio’s S.B. 10 is pending in the state Supreme Court; In re J.V. (2011-0107) challenges a juvenile court’s authority to impose punishment after a youth turns 21.
  • Ohio — Supreme Court Protects Young Children Charged with Certain Sex Offenses: In June 2011, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a decision protecting young children from certain sex offender laws. The youth in the case, D.B., was charged with multiple counts of rape for acts that occurred between him and an 11-year-old friend when D.B. was 12 years old. The juvenile court found that the acts had been consensual and that no force or coercion had been used, but adjudicated D.B. delinquent under Ohio’s statutory rape law, which prohibits sexual conduct with a person under the age of 13. D.B. challenged his adjudication, arguing that he, a 12-year-old boy, could not constitutionally be prosecuted under a law that offers special protections to a class to which he himself belonged (i.e., children under the age of 13). The Supreme Court of Ohio agreed, ruling that D.B.’s prosecution under Ohio’s statutory rape statute violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Ohio’s statutory rape law can no longer be applied to children under the age of 13 who engage in sexual conduct with other children under the age of 13. The prosecutor in D.B.’s case filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied the petition in December 2011, leaving the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision standing. In re D.B., 129 Ohio St.3d 104 (2011).
  • Oregon — Legislature Alleviates Some Registration Requirements for Youth Convicted of Sex Offenses: The Oregon State Legislature modified the relief process for youth convicted of sex offenses and required to register as sex offenders. Under the new law, youth adjudicated of misdemeanor offenses will no longer be required to register, and the Oregon State Police must remove within one year those youth previously required to register for misdemeanors. Additionally, the law allows youth adjudicated of a Class C felony to apply for removal from the registry within 30 days prior to the case’s closure in juvenile court. Lastly, for youth convicted of Class A or Class B felonies, the law reduces the waiting period to apply for removal from the registry from three years to two years. S.B. 408/Ch. 271, signed into law and effective June 7, 2011.
  • Washington — Legislature Eliminates Duty to Register for Certain Individuals: Five years after their release from confinement, individuals in Washington convicted of a Class A felony sex or kidnapping offense at the age of 15 or older no longer have to register as sex offenders. Similarly situated individuals who were 14 years old or younger at the time of the offense, or individuals convicted of a non-Class A sex or kidnapping offense, may petition the court to be relieved of the duty to register two years after their release from confinement. The legislation also creates a uniform burden of proof for individuals who petition the court for relief from the duty to register as sex offenders for offenses committed as juveniles, and allows authorities to seal most juvenile sex offense records when the convicted individual has been relieved of the duty to register and complied with all other statutory requirements. S.B. 5204/Ch. 338, signed into law May 12, 2011; effective July 22, 2011.

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  • Illinois — Law Lessens Penalty for Youth Charged with “Sexting”: Illinois law now provides that a youth who distributes indecent visual depictions of another youth may be adjudged a minor in need of supervision. If the youth is found to be in need of supervision, he or she may be ordered to obtain counseling or other supportive services, or required to perform community service. Prior to the new law, prosecutors had to charge such youth under stricter pornography laws, which could lead to designation as a sex offender. H.B. 4583/Public Act 96-1087, signed into law July 19, 2011; effective January 1, 2011.

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  • National — Ninth Circuit Panel Finds Retroactive Application of SORNA Unconstitutional: In September 2009, a panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that that the retroactive application of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s (SORNA) provisions for former youth offenders is punitive and in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court found that the registration and reporting requirements would affect many adults who were sentenced for sex offenses many years ago when they were youth, and that the requirements threaten “to disrupt the stability of [individuals’] lives and to ostracize them from their communities by drawing attention to decades-old sex offenses committed as juveniles that have, until now, remained sealed.” The court referred to the “pervasive and severe” disadvantages of mandatory registration and the historic confidentiality of juvenile proceedings in its reasoning. U.S. v. Juvenile Male, No. 07-30290, September 10, 2009.
  • Washington — Individuals with Youth Adjudications for Sex Offenses Must Be Notified of Right to Removal from Registries: The Washington State Patrol must provide notice to individuals registered for a sex offense or kidnapping offense committed when they were juveniles of the ability to petition for relief from the duty to register. The notice must be provided at least annually. S.B. 5326/Ch. 210, signed into law April 24, 2009; effective July 26, 2009.

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Photo: JISC, under Creative Commons License