Should a Juvenile Sex Offender Be Required to Register?
In 2006, Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in response to the highly publicized abduction and murder of the 6-year-old son of John Walsh, host of TV’s “America’s Most Wanted.”
The Adam Walsh Act subjects children 14 and older who are adjudicated delinquent to the same registration requirements as convicted adult sex offenders in states which have adopted the law. In some states, children as young as eight may be required to register.1
In 2013, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a comprehensive study which demonstrates that it is counterproductive to public safety to place juveniles under the age of 18 who have committed sexual offense on a government sex offender registry.
Raised on the Registry
Entitled Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the U.S., the HRW report concluded that while it is important to recognize the seriousness of sexual abuse among juvenile offenders, juvenile sex offender registration contradicts practical evidence on offending by children and teenagers, violates youthful offender’s human rights, and causes irreparable harm to these children.2
This report confirms the notion that the requirement of juveniles to register as sex offenders can be psychologically damaging, as it places restrictions on living arrangements and causes juveniles to be expelled from school, harassed by their peers and denied employment.
Unfortunately, some children and teenagers who have committed or are suspected of committing a sexual offense are resorting to suicide, rather than facing the potentially life-long stigma of being branded a sex offender. Last fall, 15-year-old Christian Adamek hung himself after believing he would have to register as a sex offender for streaking at his high school football game.
“Many people assume that anyone listed on the sex offender registry must be a rapist or a pedophile,” said Nicole Pittman, the author of the Human Rights Watch report. “But most states spread the net much more widely.”3
Is a Juvenile Sex Offender Likely to Reoffend?
According to Human Rights Watch, “[r]egistration laws are based on faulty assumptions about juvenile sexual offending. Research conclusively demonstrates that children are unlike adult sex offenders and are not on a trajectory of future offending. Children are not predators. If they commit another crime, their new offense is rarely a sex offense.”4
Research by The Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia confirms conclusively that juveniles who sexually offend have an extremely low rate of re-offense. More than 92% of all juveniles who commit a sex offense do not repeat their crimes. Moreover, data shows that requiring long-term juvenile sex offender registration and notification does nothing to improve public safety, but instead causes unintended harmful effects on the children themselves.1
“Automatic, categorical public registries do not protect public safety” said George Timberlake, a retired chief circuit judge and Chairman of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. “There’s no evidentiary basis that says they do and more importantly, they have very negative consequences in the effects they have on the offenders’ life, and perhaps the victim’s life,” the chairman stated.6
It is the position of advocates with the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission that requiring children to register as sex offenders is no different than giving them a “virtual life sentence” for crimes committed in their youth.7
A juvenile sex crime conviction would result in the requirement to register for a broad spectrum of sexual offenses, ranging from the most serious such as rape to minor offenses such as public urination, consensual teenage sex and “sexting.”
What Does Wallin & Klarich Think?
Registration of juvenile sex offenders is counterproductive to public safety and irreparably damages these children. Children and adolescents are developmentally different than adults and must be treated accordingly.
While we do not condone any type of sexual victimization, as a society we should focus our critical resources for protecting the public by reforming California’s lifetime sex offender registration laws to apply only to serious and violent felony sex crimes. Automatic sex offender registration should be eliminated for the juvenile offender.
Burdening youthful offenders with compulsory registration, community notification and restrictions on residency and employment can be unnecessarily traumatizing and hold a child to a lifetime of failure and restriction.
The fact that suicide is not only possible but predictable in these children is an unacceptable tragedy that we are morally bound to prevent.
We strongly support evaluation pending successful completion of sex offender treatment prior to imposing any registration requirement on a youthful offender. Carrying the stigma of the sex offender label disrupts a child’s sociological and psychological development and can only lead to more harm than good…for the child and for society as a whole.
How Can a Juvenile Sex Offender Avoid Registration in California?
The good news is that criminal offenders 14 years of age or older who are arrested for committing a sexual offense and are convicted in California juvenile courts may not be forced to register as sex offenders. However, they must not be committed to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Facilities in order to avoid registration.
If a minor is tried and convicted as an adult for a sex offense and/or is sent to a juvenile detention facility, lifetime sex offender registration is almost always a mandatory consequence.
However, there are some crimes which may qualify for an exception to a mandatory registration requirement and instead permit a judge to use his or her discretion whether sex offender registration is appropriate. These include certain offenses involving voluntary participation in sexual activity with another minor at least 14 years of age or older.
Additionally, if you are granted a Certificate of Rehabilitation by the court, you can be automatically relieved of your duty to register as a sex offender for most misdemeanor sex offense convictions. However, you must have had your case dismissed upon successful completion of probation pursuant to Penal Code Section 1203.4 in order to be given this privilege.
Generally, sex offenders who register as a result of a conviction for a felony offense must obtain a governor’s pardon in order to be relieved of their duty to register.
We advise you to speak to one of our experienced sex registration relief attorneys if you have any questions, or you believe you are entitled to be relieved of a current or pending duty to register.
Contact Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or someone you love is a juvenile sex offender or is facing a juvenile sex offense, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich today. You may be eligible for relief from a duty to register.
If you are eligible for relief from a mandatory sex offender registration requirement, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich will explain all of your options to you and guide you through the process to keep you off the registry. You don’t have to go through this alone.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our skilled team of attorneys at Wallin & Klarich has over 30 years of experience successfully representing our clients seeking relief from the devastating and lifelong consequences of sex offender registration.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.
1. [Human Rights Watch, May 2013: “Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the U.S.”; http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0513_ForUpload_1.pdf]↩
3. [Huffington Post: “Here’s Why It’s ‘Counterproductive’ To Put Juveniles On The Sex Offender Registry”; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/illinois-juvenile-sex-offenders_n_5028947.html?utm_hp_ref=politics]↩
6. [Juvenile Law Center: “Juvenile Sex Offender Registration”; http://www.jlc.org/current-initiatives/promoting-fairness-courts/juvenile-sex-offender-registration]↩
7. [Huffington Post: “Here’s Why It’s ‘Counterproductive’ To Put Juveniles On The Sex Offender Registry”; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/illinois-juvenile-sex-offenders_n_5028947.html?utm_hp_ref=politics]↩