Juveniles who have committed more than one sex offense can be placed on the state's sex offender registry for life, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
In a precedent-setting case out of Mesa County District Court, a three-judge panel of the appellate court said such a requirement does not violate juveniles' due process rights or constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
The court said the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act that calls for lifetime registration by convicted adults and juveniles who have been convicted of a sex crime more than once is not punishment, but necessary in the interest in public safety.
"(The act) permits sentencing courts to exempt offenders from the registration requirement if the court determines that the requirement would be unfairly punitive and that exempting the person would not pose a significant risk to the community," Judge JoAnn Vogt wrote in the 24-page opinion, which was joined by judges Daniel Dailey and Nancy Lichtenstein. "However, this provision applies only if the person was under 18 at the time of the commission of the offense and had not been previously charged with unlawful sexual behavior."
The unidentified male juvenile in the case pleaded guilty to third-degree assault as part of a plea deal. The then 17-year-old told a case manager he improperly touched and grabbed a girl's rear end while he and two other female juveniles were being transported from a Division of Youth Corrections facility to the Mesa County Courthouse, according to the ruling.
He was already serving time in DYC in four other cases, including sexually assaulting his sister over the course of three to five years, starting when the girl was about 4 years old, the ruling said.
On the due process issue, the juvenile's court-appointed attorneys tried to argue that having to register as lifetime sex offenders deprives juveniles of their liberty and right to privacy.
The court, however, said there is ample legal precedent holding that registration does not impact the liberty of convicted sex offenders.
"Although we are unaware of any Colorado cases addressing substantive due process challenges to the (act), we perceive no basis for applying a different standard to the claimed liberty interest challenge by (the juvenile)," Vogt wrote. "Thus, we do not view (the juvenile's) claim as implicating a fundamental right, and we have already recognized that the (act's) stated purpose of protecting the public is rational."
The court said the Colorado Legislature's intent to the lifetime registration law is that people convicted of unlawful sexual behavior have a reduced expectation of privacy because of the interest in public safety.
The judges also said that "it is not necessarily true" that juveniles have a greater privacy right than adults, but added that the internet posting of sex offenders required under the act is limited to registered sex offenders who have been convicted as adults of two or more sex-related felonies.
Meanwhile, a special legislative committee is to propose several changes in next year's session to the lifetime registration law as it applies to juveniles, including removing the mandatory provision that requires judges to place juveniles on the registry if they don't subsequently have a conviction as an adult.