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Is Lifelong Sex Offender Registry for Juveniles Unconstitutional?

Three people have just filed a federal appeal that makes a credible argument thatlifetime sex offender registration is unconstitutional. Two were adjudicated delinquent at ages 11 and 13 for sexually-based offenses. Neither has been accused of any sexual misconduct since. The third was convicted of second-degree sexual assault in 1999, and successfully completed eight years of probation and a sex offender treatment program. He has also never been accused of any subsequent sex crime.

Nevertheless, all three were required by Colorado law to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. That requirement not only brands them with the modern-day equivalent of a "scarlet letter" but also has direct, negative consequences for them and for their families. The plaintiffs argue that the policy of lifetime sex offender registration is unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of their privacy rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

While the case doesn't directly impact Florida, we have lifetime sex offender registration here, too.

In one of the juvenile cases, the "sex offense" involved an accusation by a female classmate that the then-13-year-old boy was "always trying to hug her." Now 28 with children of his own, his registration is an outrageous and permanent barrier to jobs and housing. It's also a direct threat to his children's well-being.

As the Courthouse News Service reports, his children are constantly subjected to obscenities shouted from cars passing their house. Nosy neighbors constantly call the police for no cause. Activists plant "sex offender" signs on their lawn. As is common among children of registered sex offenders, their dad's status gets them shunned at school. They're constantly at risk for financial turmoil.

According to the lawsuit, the policy doesn't even protect the public, but only serves to subject psychologically fragile young people to permanent humiliation and stigma, which only exacerbates their psychological difficulties.

As the plaintiffs point out, however, that sense is not based on any actual empirical, statistical or anecdotal evidence. In fact, the lawsuit states, no sex offender on parole has committed a new sex crime in Colorado the last 15 years. Furthermore, fewer than 1 percent of felonies are committed by registered sex offenders -- except failure to register. And, there are simply too many people on the registry to allow any focus on the those who might actually be dangerous.

Moreover, the policy encourages vigilante justice. In the past 15 years, more violent crimes in Colorado were perpetrated against registered sex offenders than by them.

Lifetime sex offender registry for people who pose no actual danger to society only serves to create a permanent underclass of chronically unemployed, homeless and rootless people who are more victims than victimized. Unconstitutional or not, we need to end this policy.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Should Child Offenders Be Punished for Life?" Sam Reynolds, Sept. 9, 2013