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October 21, 2014

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Nevada Supreme Court upholds classification and registration of juvenile sex offenders

The Nevada Supreme Court, in a split decision, has upheld the constitutionality of a law that requires certain juvenile sex offenders to register with law enforcement and for the registration information to be shared with community groups.

The majority 48-page opinion written by Justice Michael Douglas overturned the ruling of Clark County Juvenile District Judge William Voy, who said the 2007 law was invalid because it did not bear any relationship to public safety or rehabilitation of the juveniles.

Both the four justices in the majority and the three in the minority said Thursday the law probably is not effective in preventing crime and was passed only to get federal money.

Douglas wrote that he, like the juvenile judge, is concerned about the wisdom of the law but that the court is bound to follow it and that, in this case, it “easily passes rational basic review.”

The law defines a sex offender as one who, after July 2006, was judged a delinquent for sexual assault, battery with intent to commit sexual assault, lewdness with a child, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit any of these offenses as long as the offender was 14 years or older at the time of the act.

Prior to the passage of the law, juvenile judges had the authority to decide whether the delinquent should be required to register and if there should be limited community notification.

The majority rejected the argument that the law was punitive and said it was passed to protect the public. The justices denied the claims that children declared delinquent prior to the law could also be forced to register.

While declaring the law constitutional, Douglas wrote, “Of upmost concern, it does not appear from the legislative history that the Nevada Legislature ever considered the impact of the bill on juveniles.”

He said the motivation of the Legislature appeared to be loss of federal money.

The Clark County Public Defender’s Office and the ACLU — which backed the decision of the juvenile judge to invalidate the law — said juveniles are subject to registration for 25 years to life.

Douglas said Nevada has a long tradition of public protection and this law does not conflict with the juvenile justice system.

Justice Michael Cherry, who wrote the seven-page dissenting opinion, said this 2007 law was unconstitutional because it applied to juveniles declared sex offenders before the law was passed. He called the law “akin to the historical punishments of branding and shaming.”

Cherry objected to the wider disclosure of the information to community groups. He wrote that even juveniles who have successfully completed treatment and have been certified as low risks are subject to the registration and community notification.

Cherry, joined by Justices James Hardesty and Nancy Saitta in the dissent, said the Legislature should reconsider this law. Joining Douglas in the majority were Chief Justice Kristina Pickering and Justices Mark Gibbons and Ron Parraguirre.

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