Court sidesteps issue on juvenile sex offenders

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s Supreme Court has sidestepped, for now, the question of whether juveniles convicted of sex crimes can be required to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

The case involved a man convicted of having molested his younger sister when he was 14 years old. He was ordered held in juvenile custody until age 21. After his release, he sought relief from the sex registration requirement.

The high court on Tuesday ruled that because he was no longer in custody, he was ineligible to file for post-conviction relief under state law. Therefore, the constitutional question in the case was moot, Justice Scott Crichton wrote.

Justice Jefferson Hughes was the only member of the court to disagree.

“Advances in law and science recognize that juveniles are developmentally different from adults, with significant psychological difference,” Hughes wrote in a brief dissent, adding: “The law should alleviate unconstitutional results, not avoid them.”

Two other judges agreed with the majority ruling that the man couldn’t appeal — but they said the requirement is unconstitutional and should be changed by lawmakers.

Retired Judge Michael Kirby, appointed to temporarily fill in for Justice Marcus Clark, wrote a separate concurring opinion, agreeing the appeal was barred on procedural grounds.

“Nonetheless, I write separately to express my opinion that the imposition of lifetime sex offender registration on a 14-year old child violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Louisiana Constitution’s prohibition against excessive sentences,” Kirby wrote. The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive fines and “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Kirby said the Legislature should address the issue raised by the case.

Appeals Court Judge Susan Chehardy, temporarily filing a vacant Supreme Court seat, said she agreed with Kirby’s reasons.

The law in question applies to juveniles who were 14 or older when the crime was committed. In a separate opinion Tuesday, the court also was faced with the issue in the case of another juvenile convicted of the rape of a child. But the court found that case couldn’t be used to address the sex registration issue because there was insufficient evidence to show that the defendant had reached the age of 14 when the crime was committed.

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