Federal Judge Prevents Nebraska from Adding Juvenile to Sex Offender Registry01-Apr-2016
In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act sought to strengthen state sex offender registries under the provisions of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The intent of sex offender registration is, at its heart, a good one: to protect children and adults from habitual sex offenders by providing awareness of the offenders' whereabouts.
In reality, though, statistics show that sex offender registration does virtually nothing to protect the public. Instead, these laws are often unnecessarily punitive, requiring those with little to no chance of re-offending to continue to pay for their crimes long beyond the completion of the sentence--often for life. And those violent, aggravated, and habitual offenders who are likely to re-offend? Being listed as a sex offender is highly unlikely to stop them from committing further sexual assaults.
Because of the flaws in the sex offender registration system, it is refreshing to see it applied with common sense. Recently, a federal judge in Nebraska ruled to prohibit the state from adding a 13-year-old boy to its state registry for a sex offense the child committed in another state when he was just 11 years old.
When he was 11 years old, the boy was adjudicated delinquent for criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota. A juvenile judge sentenced him to probation, counseling, and community service. Although the child's name was placed on a registry of "predatory offenders," that list is visible only to law enforcement, and not to the general public as in the case of typical SORNA requirements.
Minnesota is not the only state that has a separate list of juvenile sex offenders--so does Oklahoma. This is another example of common sense in sentencing sex offenders, because research shows that juvenile sex crimes are typically motivated by completely different factors than adult sex crimes. For example, adults may commit sex crimes because of a drive to control or dominate others. However, when children and teens commit sex crimes, these are more likely to be fueled by curiosity, lack of impulse control, and lack of understanding of consequences. Research in brain development shows that children and teens do not have fully developed brains--and thus, do not have fully developed impulse control or understanding--until roughly 25 years of age.
The boy then moved to Nebraska to live with family members. In the summer of 2014, state law enforcement officials told the boy's family that he must register as a sex offender under a state law which says that "any person who on or after January 1, 1997 ... enters the state and is required to register as a sex offender under the laws of another village, town, city, state, territory, commonwealth, or other jurisdiction of the United States" must comply with Nebraska's sex offender registration act.
The boy's family filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the state from putting the child on the state's public sex offender registry.
Late last month, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf ruled in favor of the family, noting that the child had been adjudicated in juvenile court, not convicted in adult court, so the Nebraska's sex offender registration act did not apply to him. He went on to say that if the boy had committed the exact same offense in Nebraska that he committed in Minnesota, he would not be required by Nebraska law to register as a sex offender "and he would not be stigmatized as such." He went on to clarify, "It therefore makes no sense to believe that the Nebraska statutes were intended to be more punitive to juveniles adjudicated out of state as compared to juveniles adjudicated in Nebraska."
The boy's family says that the now 13-year-old is happy and thriving in his new school, and their attorney says it would have been a "tragedy" to brand this child as a sex offender for life.
Certainly, punishing a person forever for a mistake made at age 11--and a mistake from which the child has since recovered--would be severe injustice.
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