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The Issues Surrounding Juveniles and Sex Offender Registries

September 28, 2016 | Posted In Criminal Law

In New Jersey, when a minor is found to have committed a sex offense, the juvenile is generally adjudicated delinquent of the offense. An adjudication of delinquency for the juvenile does not have the same consequences as a guilty verdict for an adult. 

How New Jersey Law Differs From Other States

One of the ways in which a juvenile adjudication of delinquency differs from a guilty verdict for an adult is that New Jersey places important restrictions on the use of the sex offender registry for juveniles. Juveniles are, by statute, excluded from being placed onto the Internet sex offender registry.

Only juveniles who are considered Tier III high-risk offenders can be placed on the online sex offender registry, and very few juvenile defendants are classified as Tier III offenders. Juveniles who go on to commit adult sex offenses may also be placed on the sex offender registry and can have their underage offense referenced on the list.

New Jersey law is different from the laws in many other states which apply to juvenile sex offenses. While an adjudication of delinquency is still a serious matter and a New Jersey criminal lawyer should be consulted to help fight the charges, the fact that teens do not usually have their sex offender status publicized means that the long-term consequences can be less severe than for young people in other states who may be adjudicated as adults and treated in the same manner as adults when it comes to sex offender registration.

Being Placed on a Sex Offender Registry as a Juvenile Can Be Devastating

The New York Times reported recently on the problems that can result in states where young people are put onto the sex offender registry. In one example, a 10-year-old boy participated in a touching game with his 8-year-old sister, even though no one really knew what they were doing.

When his sister's teacher discovered what had happened, the teacher notified the authorities. The boy was arrested just after his 11th birthday, and he and his parents agreed to plead guilty. He was sentenced to two years of probation, which he served while living in a foster home. 

Unfortunately, upon his return to his family, it was discovered that he would be on the sex offender registry for a period of 10 years, with restrictions that are intended for serial child rapists. He wasn't allowed unsupervised contact with anyone under 17, or allowed contact with his sister, and when he eventually got married, he wasn't allowed contact with his wife's kids or with the baby they had together until he had passed an evaluation. 

The consequences of his listing on the registry were grave not just for the young boy, but also for his family. Neighbors shot and killed their family dog and threw a Molotov cocktail at his home. He was also listed by name in the newspaper along with adult sex offenders.  He dropped out of school, ran away, was homeless for several years and began doing drugs before he was arrested for burglary and parole violation. His parent's 20-year marriage ended.  Even after he was taken off the registry in 2011, Internet searches still show him as being on the list.

His story is not a unique one, as kids are listed on sex offender registries in 40 states -- sometimes for life. They are lumped in with adult sex criminals, and as many as 24,000 of the 800,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. are kids.

While kids in New Jersey do not usually have to worry that they will find themselves listed online as registered sex offenders, stories like this one in the New York times illustrate the ways in which sex crime convictions can profoundly affect the lives of convicted defendants in ways that other crimes don't.

Sex crimes are often punished harshly because of public fear of sex offenders, and this tough-on-crime attitude towards sex crimes could affect underage defendants in New Jersey as well. Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A. can help defendants try to avoid conviction and work to reduce the consequences that could result from a sex crimes charge.

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