The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a lifetime requirement that juvenile sex offenders register online, saying it was cruel and unusual punishment.
Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote the majority opinion and cited a national consensus against imposing automatic lifetime registration requirements against juvenile sex offenders.
“Before a juvenile can even begin his adult life, before he has a chance to live on his own, the world will know his offense,” Justice Pfeifer wrote. “His potential will be squelched before it has a chance to show itself.”
A state law passed in 2008 requires that some juvenile sex offenders be required to register with law enforcement and have their photos, addresses, and criminal histories distributed to neighbors and schools and be publicly available on a state database.
In a 5-2 opinion, the court said the punishment violates the Ohio and United States constitutions because it is cruel and unusual, and because it violates a defendant’s right to due process.
Juvenile courts could still impose registration requirements in light of the ruling.
Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Robert Cupp disagreed with the majority, calling the registration requirements “civil in nature,” and thus not punishments.
Ohio was the first state to implement a registration and notification law to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, a law that sought to make sexual offender registry rules uniform across the country. Ohio’s law created a class of juvenile sex offenders that were required to register for the rest of their lives. There are eight juveniles so classified.
Justice Pfeifer said the elimination of a juvenile court judge’s discretion denies a defendant’s right to due process. The law “requires the automatic imposition of a lifetime punishment – with no chance of reconsideration for 25 years – without benefit of a juvenile judge weighing its appropriateness,” he wrote. “It is contrary to the juvenile system’s core emphasis on individual, corrective treatment and rehabilitation.”
The case stemmed from the 2009 conviction of a fifteen-year-old who admitted guilt to the rape and kidnapping of a six-year-old relative. The teen was automatically classified under Ohio’s Adam Walsh Law and subject to lifetime registration requirements.
The court’s decision sends the case back to the county juvenile court. The prosecutor said he will continue to seek registration requirements for the teen.
The Ohio Public Defender’s office, which represented the juvenile, welcomed the court’s ruling. “The recognition kids are different and more responsive to treatment we think is a very good thing,” said Amy Borror, spokeswoman for the public defender’s office.
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