Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 26, 2012


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Ninth Circuit Rejects Challenges to Statute Requiring Some Juveniles to Register as Sex Offenders


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


Juveniles convicted of serious sex offenses under federal law may be required to register as sex offenders, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

A three-judge panel said the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which requires that juvenile offenders register if they were adjudicated to have committed aggravated sexual abuse or a more serious sex crime against a minor, and were at least 14 years of age at the time of the offense, carves out an exception to the confidentiality provisions of the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act.

Ruling in consolidated appeals from the District of Montana in three separate cases involving sex offenses committed on Native American lands, the court also rejected claims that the provision deprives juveniles of constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process, and forces them to incriminate themselves.

Juvenile justice advocates said the ruling is the first of its kind. They called the decision is short-sighted and inconsistent with the rehabilitative purposes of the FJDA.

Requiring teens to register as sex offenders will make it difficult for them to move past their juvenile offenses and become productive adults, Tracy Velazquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press.

“I am concerned that (the ruling) will make it more difficult for advocates to argue for the importance of not putting kids on the registry,” Velazquez said. “The fact that the federal government has said states can keep youths off the registry and still comply with SORNA hopefully that will not change as a result of this.”

Jessica Fehr, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana, said in an email it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the case in the event the defendants appeal the decision.

Sex offenders must have their photographs taken, which are made public along with their names, addresses, criminal history and status of release. The judges found that those requirements conflict with the confidentiality provisions of the juvenile delinquency law.

To decide which law should rule in this case, the appellate panel looked at both laws and statements in the Congressional record. The judges found that the sex offender registration law “unambiguously directs juveniles over the age of 14 convicted of certain aggravated sex crimes to register.”

“Thus, Congress was aware that it was limiting protections under the (juvenile delinquency law) by applying SORNA to certain juvenile delinquents, and intended to do so,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in her opinion.

The judges also concluded that juvenile sex offenders over 14 aren’t a class protected by the Constitution’s equal protection clause and forcing them to register is not cruel and unusual punishment.

They also rejected substantive and procedural due process claims. Wardlaw said there is no substantive constitutional right to confidentiality in juvenile cases, nor does procedural due process require that a juvenile be given a jury trial or “transfer hearing” as a prerequisite to treating a juvenile adjudication as equivalent to an adult criminal conviction for registration purposes.

Judges Ronald Gould and Jay S. Bybee joined in the opinion, in which the three appellants were identified only by their initials. They all admitted  the sexual abuse charges.

One is 20 years old and a member of the Fort Peck Tribes, and admitted an offense that happened in July 2008, when he was 17. The second offender, an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe is now 20 years old, and admitted offenses committed in 2005 and 2007, when he was between the ages of 13 and 16.

The third offender is now 17. admitted an offense that happened on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in 2008 when he was 14.

The case is United States v. Juvenile Male, 09-30330.


Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company