By Laurie Mason Schroeder
Young sex offenders will soon face some long-lasting, potentially public consequences under a change in the law that goe‘s into effect this week.
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires teens convicted of serious sex offenses to be registered in a database for 25 years. Previously, only adult sex offenders were registered.
Currently, the online registry can be accessed only by police and other law enforcement agencies. But with the trend of colleges and employers seeking more and more personal information about potential students and employees, juvenile advocates fear that the new law might mark a teen for life.
Others say that’s not such a bad thing.
“Certainly there are some juveniles, the predators, that you need to monitor,” said Robert Stanzione, Bucks County’s chief of Juvenile Probation. “I think this legislation was crafted with those individuals in mind.”
SORNA is a portion of the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2006 (Video). The federal act goes a step beyond Megan’s Law, imposing longer and stricter registration requirements on sex offenders of all ages.
Under SORNA, sex offenders must provide more personal information and make periodic in-person appearances before law enforcement to update that information. It requires sex offenders to keep their registration current in each jurisdiction in which they reside, work or go to school, and increases the amount of information to which the public has access.
SORNA extends beyond the 50 states, requiring registration in most U.S. territories and on American Indian reservations. States that don’t enact SORNA laws lose federal crime-fighting grant money.
Certain juvenile sex offenders, those found delinquent of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault or conspiracy to any of the above, will now be registered sex offenders for 25 years, even though Juvenile Court supervision ends at age 21.
Stanzione said that fewer than five teens now being supervised by Bucks juvenile probation officers will be required to register. But he worries what will happen as word gets out that an adjudication to a sex offense — the juvenile court equivalent to a conviction — carries a 25-year consequence.
“My concerns moving forward is what effect this is going to have on victims,” he said. “We’re going to see more cases where the kid is not going to admit to the crime, so we’ll have to have a hearing and the victims will have to testify. That’s going to be pretty traumatizing, as most of the victims are younger children.”
Lawyer Robert Mancini (Avvo, Facebook), who says juvenile defense accounts for about 30 percent of his practice, said the new law means that he’ll have to advise more young clients to fight their charges.