Mandatory lifetime juvenile sex offender registration is unconstitutional, Colorado Supreme Court finds

Juveniles cannot be mandated to register as lifelong sex offenders in Colorado if there is no way for offenders to be individually assessed or to later be removed from the registry, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The 6-1 decision follows a new law signed by Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday that eliminates mandatory lifetime sex offender registration for juveniles who commit multiple sex offenses. The law takes effect Sept. 1.

The justices found that mandating all people who committed multiple sex offenses when they were children to register for life as sex offenders constitutes cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Eighth Amendment.

“Mandatory lifetime sex offender registration brands juveniles as irredeemably depraved based on acts committed before reaching adulthood,” Justice Monica Márquez wrote. “But a wealth of social science and jurisprudence confirms what common sense suggests: Juveniles are different. Minors have a tremendous capacity to change and reform.”

The case came before the court from a man who committed two sex offenses as a child, when he was 11 and 15. He was mandated to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, but petitioned to be removed from the registry when he was about 20 years old because it was harming his career and making it difficult for him to secure an apartment.

His former probation officer found he had “changed from the person he was at 11” and was not likely to re-offend.  However, he was unable to de-register because of the state’s sentencing laws.

The state Supreme Court found that mandatory lifelong sex offender registration for juveniles stands in “direct opposition to the goals of the juvenile justice system,” which focuses on rehabilitation and restoration over punishment.

Chief Justice Brian Boatright dissented from Monday’s ruling, finding that registration as a sex offender is not punishment, and so cannot violate the Eighth Amendment.

“I realize that there are challenges associated with sex offender registration. I will even go so far as to say that lifetime sex offender registration for juveniles, without the possibility of deregistration, is unfair,” he wrote in his dissent. “But something being unfair does not mean it is unconstitutional.”

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