Court Prohibits Lifetime Sex Offender Registration for Juveniles
A Pennsylvania judge has issued a ruling finding that juvenile registration provisions of SORNA (the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act) are unconstitutional, contending that the law improperly treats juvenile sex offenders the same as adult sex offenders. Judge John C. Uhler, in York County, also found that the sexual registration act fails to take into account the increased capacity for a juvenile offender to reform behavior.
The Enactment of SORNA
The Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act was passed by the New Jersey legislature in 2011 to bring the state into compliance with the federal statute governing registration of sexual offenders, the Adam Walsh Act. Legislators approved the bill to prevent the loss of federal funding if the state remained out of compliance with the federal law.
The Ruling in York County
In York County, the public defender’s office brought a challenge to SORNA on behalf of seven juvenile offenders, who had been convicted of a range of sexual crimes, from aggravated indecent exposure to rape. The defendants were all under the age of 18 when they committed the alleged crimes.
In the opinion accompanying his ruling, Judge Uhler made reference to studies that show that juvenile sex offenders are less likely to become repeat offenders than adults. As a consequence, treating them exactly the same as adults “unfairly paints adult and youth offenders with the same brush.” He also noted that the provisions governing juvenile offenders were enacted with little regard to how they would impact juvenile offenders or whether such measures were even necessary with respect to juveniles. He concluded that juveniles would be more likely to have their registration status made public, and they would be more likely to suffer irreparable harm as a result.
The judge ordered that the names of all seven be removed from the registry. While defense attorneys lauded the ruling, saying it gives children a chance to grow up and change their lives, prosecutors indicated that an appeal is likely.
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