Introduction In the ten years between and , our understanding about children who commit crimes, even violent crimes, underwent a seismic shift. In and the years immediately following, jurisdictions across the country reacted to steeply rising violent crime among both juveniles and adults by adopting stricter crime policies. Legislation initially passed to protect children as victims was instead being used against juvenile offenders.
Then in , the pendulum began to swing back. Simmons,  the United States Supreme Court struck down the juvenile death penalty under the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment. Roper relied upon an emerging body of developmental and behavioral research establishing key differences between juvenile and adult offenders—research which provided the Court with a sound empirical basis for finding juveniles to be less blameworthy for their criminal conduct than adults and, therefore, less deserving of the harshest punishments, even in cases where they were convicted of homicide.
This essay discusses recent challenges to juvenile sex offender registration statutes as one example of this trend. First, we provide a brief introduction to juvenile sex offender registration laws. Second, we discuss strategies for reforming juvenile registration laws. In considering strategies, we focus on the harm registration inflicts on registrants and the relationship, if any, between registration and community safety.
The previous version of the Act had expressly applied to adults convicted of sexual offenses and was silent as to whether children who were adjudicated delinquent in the juvenile justice system fell within its provisions. Therefore, a fourteen-year-old child adjudicated delinquent for an offense could potentially be required to register as a sex offender for his or her entire life without any determination of his likelihood to reoffend or the need for such registration.
Seventeen states and three U. Strategies for Reform of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Laws In evaluating the constitutionality of sex offender registration statutes as applied to children, one must weigh the harm to registrants against the harm to the community.
The punitive effect of registration is significantly amplified when applied to children—children who are neither mature nor self-reliant, and whose lifetime reporting requirements will last years, if not decades, longer than the same penalty imposed upon adults. Moreover, the benefit to the community is actually diminished by placing youth on a registry because it has no impact on the already low rates of juvenile recidivism and could divert resources away from high-risk offenders.
Harm to Youth on the Registry There is now ample evidence establishing the negative consequences of juvenile sex offender registration laws. The Ohio Supreme Court articulated the harm that befalls youth on registries: For a juvenile offender, the stigma of the label of sex offender attaches at the start of his adult life and cannot be shaken. Before a juvenile can even begin his adult life, before he has a chance to live on his own, the world will know of his offense.
He will never have a chance to establish a good character in the community. He will be hampered in his education, in his relationships, and in his work life. His potential will be squelched before it has a chance to show itself. A juvenile—one who remains under the authority of the juvenile court and has thus been adjudged redeemable—who is subject to sex-offender notification will have his entire life evaluated through the prism of his juvenile adjudication.
It will be a constant cloud, a once-every-three-month reminder to himself and the world that he cannot escape the mistakes of his youth. A youth released at 18 would have to wait until age 43 at the earliest to gain a fresh start.
While not a harsh penalty to a career criminal used to serving time in a penitentiary, a lifetime or even year requirement of community notification means everything to a juvenile. It will define his adult life before it has a chance to truly begin. Many children adjudicated of sex offenses can be expelled from public school. Registration Does Little to Advance Community Safety Requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders does not deter sexual offending nor promote public safety.
Multiple studies confirm that the lower rates of recidivism among youth who sexually offend derive largely from the fact that these youth offend for different reasons than adults. Their offenses may be driven by aspects of developmental immaturity related to their youth, including poor decision-making abilities, impulsivity, peer influence or isolation, and general psychosocial immaturity—factors less likely to play a role in adult sexual offending.
Successful Challenges in Pennsylvania and Ohio Despite the limited effectiveness of registration, nearly forty states still require youth to register, many in accordance with the Adam Walsh Act.
The Ohio Supreme Court was the first state supreme court to rule a state juvenile sex offender registration scheme unconstitutional in In re C. The Ohio statute required mandatory lifetime registration with the potential for review after twenty-five years, quarterly in-person reporting, and mandatory reporting of changes in personal data within three days.
Supreme Court precedent establishing children as less culpable than adults,  the court held that the registration requirement constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The court reasoned that: The public punishments required by [the law] are automatic, lifelong, and contrary to the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile system.
In Pennsylvania enacted a juvenile SORNA law  requiring mandatory, lifetime registration  for juveniles upon adjudication of one of the enumerated offenses. All three challenges were sustained in the juvenile courts. Further Reform Using the analysis set forth in the Pennsylvania and Ohio cases, states are beginning to address the constitutionality of their own juvenile registration schemes.
The New Jersey Superior Court is currently reviewing a challenge to a lifetime registration scheme for juveniles. The next wave of litigation is also likely to challenge registration as applied to youth tried and convicted as adults. In many states, the registration scheme for adult sex offenders is more severe and onerous and more likely to require a listing of registered sex offenders on a public database or require community notification.
In a recent case, State v. Dull, the Kansas Supreme Court found that the mandatory lifetime post-release supervision for a sex offense committed when the individual was seventeen years old was cruel and unusual punishment under the Kansas and U. Conclusion Although only the supreme courts of Pennsylvania and Ohio to date have found juvenile registration under SORNA unconstitutional, the reasoning of these cases, along with the analysis in Dull, provides a blueprint for challenges in other SORNA jurisdictions.
The conclusions of the U. Supreme Court in Roper, Graham, J. Collapsing juvenile and adult sentencing into one framework fails for its inability to account for material, age-based differences between children and adults. These differences include the fact that children are developmentally immature, less culpable for their offenses, and far more likely to be rehabilitated. A one-size-fits-all punishment scheme imposes disproportionate penalties on children, violating a core principle of the American justice system.
As the momentum for reform builds, the punitive mindset of will hopefully remain in the past. She has successfully litigated challenges to unlawful and harmful laws, policies and practices on behalf of children in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Levick has authored or co-authored numerous appellate and amicus briefs in state and federal appeals courts throughout the country, including many before the US Supreme Court.
She has written extensively on collateral consequences, expungement, and the right to counsel. Riya is engaged in legislative and litigation strategies to implement juvenile justice systems reform at the state and federal levels and is involved in policy advocacy to ensure the child welfare system is more responsive to the needs of older youth as they prepare for adulthood. Policy Overview and Comprehensive Practices , http: Human Rights Watch, Raised on the Registry: North Carolina, S.
Brief for Petitioner at 15—16, Miller, S. Psychologist ,