Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that it’s unconstitutional to require juveniles convicted of repeat sex offenses to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
The state’s highest court deemed lifetime registration cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th amendment, unless Colorado provides a way for juveniles to petition for deregistration.
“Mandatory lifetime sex offender registration brands juveniles as irredeemably depraved based on acts committed before reaching adulthood,” Justice Monica Márquez wrote in her opinion. “But a wealth of social science and jurisprudence confirms what common sense suggests: Juveniles are different. Minors have a tremendous capacity to change and reform.”
However, the ruling will have little practical impact on Colorado law. Lawmakers already moved this spring to repeal the lifetime registration requirement.
Gov. Jared Polis signed HB21-1064 last Thursday. It automatically removes juvenile offenders from the sex offender registry when they turn 25 or seven years after their second offense, as long as they haven’t gone on to reoffend as an adult.
That change takes effect in September, but the court said it went ahead and issued its ruling so that the man who brought the case would not have to wait two more months before asking to have his name taken off the registry.
The case was brought by a man identified only as T.B. in court documents, who was convicted of sexual offenses first at age 11 and again at age 15. Before Monday’s ruling, he would have been required to stay on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life.
When he reached his 20s, T.B. petitioned the court to delist him. His probation officer testified he had done a “phenomenal job” in his treatment sessions and had made a “complete turnaround” from the person he’d been as a young teen. T.B. told the court that he was working in management in a fast food restaurant, but his record was holding him back from advancement.
The juvenile court ruled that T.B. met the criteria to be delisted, but the judge wasn’t sure whether it was allowed under Colorado law, which required repeat offenders to stay on the registry for life.
At the time, T.B. didn’t pursue the case, letting it go for several years before refiling it and arguing that the lifetime registration requirement is cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile offenders.
The court’s ruling will not cover someone who commits a first offense as a juvenile and then reoffends as an adult. In those situations, the person will continue to be required to stay on the sex offender registry for life.
Chief Justice Nathan Boatright was the lone dissent to the 6-1 ruling. He wrote that while the lifetime registration requirement was “unfair,” it did not count as punishment, because the legislature had not intended it to be punitive but to promote public safety. Because of that finding, Boatright concluded it could not be considered under the cruel and unusual clause of the constitution.