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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Teen Sex Offenders Lose Registration Challenge

(CN) - Teenage sex offenders must register with the government even though they were juveniles at the time they abused other minors, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.

Three plaintiffs who were convicted of aggravated sexual abuse with children when they were just teens themselves had challenged the registration requirements of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) in Montana. They claimed the provisions were unconstitutional and violated federal privacy laws for minors.

Each plaintiff belongs to an American Indian tribe and lives on a reservation in Montana. Two of them are now 20 years old, and one is 17. They were each between the ages of 13 and 17 when they committed their offenses. Under the law passed by Congress in 2006 as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, they now have to register as sex offenders as a condition of their probation. They had argued in their consolidated appeals that such a requirement counteracts the confidentiality provisions of the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA), and violates their right to due process, among other things.

A federal judge in Great Falls upheld the rule, however, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed on Wednesday, finding the registration requirement "constitutionally sound." In some circumstances, the notification law revokes the high level of confidentiality usually afforded to juvenile defendants, the panel ruled from San Francisco.

"Defendants argue that the interest at stake is their expectation of confidentiality in juvenile proceedings, which they allege is undermined by SORNA's public registration requirements," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the unanimous panel.

SORNA nevertheless does not publicize the entire juvenile adjudication process. Juvenile sex offenders can still avail themselves of closed hearings, sealed records, and the other procedural protections of the juvenile process.

"But more importantly, because we conclude that the confidentiality provisions of the FJDA were intentionally superseded by the passage of SORNA, the underlying interest in confidentiality that defendants rely upon no longer exists," Wardlaw wrote. "In the absence of that specific statutory right, defendants offer no support for the notion that they have a broader right. In fact, the Supreme Court has held that adverse publicity or harm to the reputation of sex offenders does not implicate a liberty interest for the purposes of due process analysis."

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