May 01, 2012

Lifetime Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Requirement is Unconstitutional

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Ohio Supreme Court held that statute automatically requiring youth under juvenile court supervision to be subject to public sex offender registration requirements violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In re C.P., 2012 WL 1138035 (Ohio).

A juvenile was charged in juvenile court with kidnapping with sexual motivation and rape. The victim was a six-year-old relative. The state moved to have the juvenile tried as an adult. The juvenile court denied the motion indicating that it believed that he could benefit from services.

Due to the nature of the charges, the juvenile was found to be a “serious youthful offender” under state statute. As part of the dispositional structure under that section, the court sentenced him to a minimum of three years commitment to the state Youth Services Division and five years in prison, which was stayed pending successful completion of his juvenile requirements. The court further found his case qualified for public sex offender registration.

The juvenile appealed the automatic public sex offender registry qualification arguing it constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed. The juvenile appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Public registry offender status is assigned to juveniles who are 14 to 17 at the time of the offense, have been adjudicated on certain listed offenses, including rape when the victim is under 12, and have been found to be a serious youthful offender.

Juveniles under the public registration statute have additional requirements as compared to juveniles placed on the registry through a traditional delinquency disposition. For one, the registration requirements remain in place into adulthood even if the youth successfully completes his juvenile court requirements. A public registrant is also placed on a public Internet database, automatically subject to community notification requirements, and is not entitled to a hearing at the end of juvenile court supervision to determine whether he should remain on the registry. The juvenile is not eligible for a reclassification hearing for 25 years.

The Ohio Supreme Court reviewed the history of the 2006 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). By 2011, only Ohio and three other states had substantially complied with the Act. In a national survey, 23 states noted the registration requirement of juvenile offenders was a significant barrier to compliance. As a result of this and other pressure, the U.S. Attorney General issued guidelines that added a discretionary exemption, effectively removing the requirement that states publicly disclose juvenile offender information. The court concluded a national consensus exists against public reporting of juvenile sex offenders’ personal information.

The court noted that juvenile offenders, especially those not transferred to adult criminal court, are presumed more capable of rehabilitation. The public registration requirements would inhibit rehabilitation because the juvenile would likely be unable to begin a healthy adult life if the entire community knew of his past offenses. It would also be likely that the juvenile would be hampered educationally, in potential relationships, and in work.

Regarding public safety, the automatic nature of the statute did not give the juvenile judge latitude to determine what registration requirements were appropriate given the individual juvenile’s potential risk to the

The Ohio Supreme Court concluded that for a youth under juvenile court jurisdiction, automatically imposing lifetime public sex-offender registration and notification requirements violated the Eighth Amendment.

The court further held the automatic registration requirement violated due process since it interfered with the goal of treating juveniles individually and the juvenile court’s role in rehabilitating youth and protecting the community.

The Ohio Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded the judgment.