(CN) - The 9th Circuit rejected as unconstitutional a legal provision requiring juvenile sex offenders to register and report four times a year, saying it could "wreak havoc" on the lives of former offenders who are now law-abiding adults.
Congress enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act in 2006 in response to growing concern over sex crimes, particularly against children.
The Act applied not only to adults, but also to juveniles convicted of aggravated sexual assault or worse at the age of 14 or older. It also applied retroactively.
At age 13, the unnamed juvenile male defendant sexually abused a 10-year-old boy. The abuse continued for two years until the defendant, then 15, pleaded "true" to the sex acts. He spent two years in a juvenile detention center and entered a prerelease program, but was kicked out. He was sentenced to six more months and ordered to register as a sex offender.
He argued that the U.S. Constitution's ex post facto clause bars the government from retroactively applying the registration provision to juvenile offenders.
The 9th Circuit agreed, ruling that the juvenile register provision "may not be applied retroactively to individuals adjudicated delinquent."
The three-judge panel ruled that forcing former sex offender delinquents to register is a violation of their privacy under a judicial system that has operated, historically, to shield juveniles from the public eye.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt said the provision appears to impose a punishment that could be "severely damaging to former offenders' economic, social, psychological, and physical well-being."
He also noted that the statute lists 17 victims and details the crimes committed against them, "strongly suggesting that the motivation behind its passage was not only to protect public safety in the future but also to 'revisit past crimes.'"
"Juveniles are as a general matter less mature, more impulsive, and more confused about sexually appropriate behavior than adults," Reinhardt continued. "They do not understand their sexual drives as well or know how to deal with them. We do not, of course, excuse such conduct as mere juvenile exuberance. We simply recognize that the predictive value of an individual's conduct, especially sexual conduct, at the age of 14 or 15 is, under most circumstances, limited.
"For that reason, requiring former juvenile sex offenders to register as such many decades thereafter will often not only be unnecessary to secure the safety of the community but may even be counterproductive."
The panel concluded that juvenile offenders are not required to register and report under the Act.