A 29-year-old Coloradan made to register as a sex-offender for the rest of his life because of two sexual offenses he committed as a child and teenager could get his name off the list if a Denver juvenile court determines the lifetime mandate is cruel and unusual punishment.
The development comes via a Colorado Court of Appeals decision, which the 29-year-old’s attorney, Gail Johnson, described as groundbreaking. The decision signals a changing attitude on how long juvenile sex offenders must be tied to their crimes, and it could pave the way for constitutional challenges to Colorado’s sex offender registry, experts said.
Under Colorado law, juveniles must be convicted of two sex crimes to receive mandatory placement on the lifetime sex offender registry. The lists were created so law enforcement and the general public could keep track of people once they have served their sentences. But critics say sex offender registries are punitive, causing people to lose jobs, housing and other opportunities for the rest of their lives.
The “decision joins appellate courts from other states around the country holding that because sex-offender registration is punitive, it must comply with the protections of the U.S. Constitution,” Johnson wrote in a news release.
Laurie Rose Kepros, director of sexual litigation for the Office of the State Public Defender, said the number of juveniles who commit two sexual offenses is “very small.”
“Where the case becomes very important is that it reflects a national sea-change in how courts are coming to terms with the reality that the sex offender registry is punishment, which I think the general public already understands,” Kepros said. “Most people think ‘Isn’t that what it’s for?’ It’s the ultimate scarlet letter.”
The 29-year-old was only identified as “T.B.” in court documents because the crimes happened when he was a juvenile.
T.B. was placed on the sex offender registry for unlawful sexual contact when he was 11-years-old. Four years later, T.B. pleaded guilty to a sexual assault, according to court documents. Afterward, T.B. completed probation and treatment for his sexual offenses. He has no additional criminal record, court documents said.
In 2010, a Denver juvenile court judge decided T.B. did not pose a risk of committing sexual offenses again and found that T.B. “earned the right not to have to register,” court documents said. The teen’s probation officer supported his removal from the sex offender registry, Johnson’s news release said.