Indiana High Court Increases Difficulty of Placing Minors on Sex Offender Registries

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In a 5-0 decision, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled on Monday that before juvenile court judges can place minors on sex offender registries, evidentiary hearings must be held to determine whether the youth is likely to reoffend.

At the hearings, juvenile offenders must be given the opportunity to have counsel representation, be allowed to challenge evidence brought forth by prosecutors and present their own evidence, wrote Justice Loretta Rush in the court’s opinion.

“It is well within a trial court’s discretion to hold more than one hearing to determine whether a juvenile’s risk of re-offending warrants placing them on the sex offender registry,” Rush wrote. “But when it does so, every hearing held for that purpose must be an ‘evidentiary hearing…’ That is, juveniles must have the opportunity to challenge the State’s evidence and present evidence of their own.”

With the new ruling in place, juvenile offenders cannot be placed on state registries unless a trial court finds, “by clear and convincing evidence,” that a minor is likely to reoffend based exclusively on the results of evidentiary hearings.

The ruling overturns an Indiana Court of Appeals decision in which a 16-year-old was placed on a sex offender registry after touching a 9-year-old boy in a game of “truth or dare.” According to the state Supreme Court ruling, if given treatment and assessed with a minimal risk of reoffending, the 16-year-old must be taken off the registry and given a new, state-mandated hearing.

“For children, the effect of registration is particularly harsh,” Rush wrote. “Because while some juvenile court records are confidential, registration reveals their delinquent acts to the world and exposes them to ‘the profound humiliation and community-wide ostracism’ that registration entails.”

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