Registration as a sexual offender carries a stigma that goes far beyond being convicted of a serious crime. Florida's First District Court of Appeal issued an important interpretation of the statute concerning whether a juvenile must register as a sexual offender.
The case of K.J.F. v. State, 35 Fla. L. Weekly D2170c (Fla. 1st DCA September 30, 2010) involved a fifteen year old who pled guilty to acts constituting sexual battery in violation of Fla. Stat. $794.011(2)(b); lewd and lascivious molestation in violation of Fla. Stat. $800.04(5)(c)1; lewd or lascivious exhibition in violation of Fla. Stat. $800.04(7)(c); and false imprisonment in violation of Fla. Stat. $787.02(1)(b). The minor was fifteen years old when the offense was committed (in 2008) and the victim was six years old. The court withheld adjudication of delinquency. The juvenile was placed on probation and ordered to register as a sexual offender.
Defense counsel objected to the requirement that the juvenile register as a sexual offender. The defense argued that because K.J.F. had not been adjudicated a delinquent, he could not be ordered to register as a sexual offender.
The issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in concluding that Fla. Stat. $$985.4815 and 943.0435 require a juvenile to register as a sexual offender where the juvenile has committed a qualifying offense but adjudication of delinquency was withheld.
The court of appeal noted that legislative intent is the "polestar of statutory interpretation." To discern legislative intent, courts look primarily to the plain language of the statute. If the language is unambiguous, courts ordinarily need look no further. It also noted however, that the Florida Supreme Court has issued the following caveat concerning the plain language doctrine:
[I]f a part of the statute appears to have a clear meaning if considered alone but when given that meaning is inconsistent with other parts of the same statute or others in pari materia, the Court will examine the entire act and those in pari materia in order to ascertain the overall legislative intent.
Id. at E.A.R. v. State at 629.
After a careful review, the court ruled that the statute which requires a juvenile to register as a sexual offender does not apply to juveniles unless they are adjudicated a delinquent.
This ruling provides an opportunity for counsel to help juveniles avoid registration as a sexual offender by resolving a case so as to avoid adjudication of delinquency.