Juveniles who have committed sex offenses are no longer subject to automatic sex offender registration under SORNA – better known under its previous title as Megan’s Law. When confronted with accusations of committing a sex offense, often the most stressful and life altering consequence is being forced to register with the Pennsylvania State Police as a sex offender. Juveniles who commit offenses often do not fully understand the consequences of their actions, act impulsively or sexual curiosity. Moreover, scientific and medical research shows that an adolescent’s brain has not yet fully developed.
This bar of automatic lifetime registration as a sex offender can help juveniles move forward, shed a prior bad decision and lead productive lives as adults without carrying the stigma associated with lifetime registration as a sex offender for the rest of their lives. It ultimately follows the fundamental precept of the juvenile justice system, where the goal is strictly rehabilitation, not designed to punish, as is often the case with adult, criminal cases.
When the legislature revamped Megan’s Law in 2012, they added a new provision subjecting juveniles to lifetime sex offender registration if adjudicated delinquent (the term used for a finding of guilt in juvenile court) of certain offenses. This Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, In re: J.B., means that juveniles found to have committed sex-based offenses no longer are required to carry the sex-offender albatross around their neck. In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court found that the irrebuttable presumption that all juvenile sex offenders pose a high risk of repeating the same crimes was unconstitutional, violating a juvenile’s due process rights. In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court found that every Pennsylvanian possesses a constitutional right to his or her reputation, on which the claim that all juveniles pose a high risk of recidivism encroaches. It further found that academic research tends to undercut this bald assertion and that, in fact, juveniles have a low rate of committing the same acts later. Finally, reasonable alternatives could be put in place to determine if registering a juvenile as a sex offender is necessary without painting everyone with the same broad brush. This decision does not mean that no juvenile will ever have to register as a sex offender but the ball is now in the legislature’s court.
A juvenile adjudication or conviction can have serious, permanent consequences, especially when a sex offense is alleged. It impacts a child’s college prospects, ability to own or rent a home and employment future. When faced with such serious, life-altering consequences, trust the team with unparalleled reputation and skill. Call for a free consultation.
By Matthew Quigg