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Juveniles May Be Required To Register as ‘Sex Offenders’ in Massachusetts

In a case decide today, in L.L., a Juvenile v. Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules on the standard a juvenile court judge determines the risk of re-offense on the part of a juvenile who committed a ‘sex offense’ that imposes the requirement of sex offender registration.  The SJC ruled that, even as it pertains to juvenile offenders, it is within the judge’s discretion to determine whether the juvenile offender should or should not be relieved of the obligation to register as a sex offender.

In this case, the juvenile was charged in Essex County Juvenile Court as a result of allegations that occurred in Lynn, Massachusetts.  The juvenile was charged with two counts of Indecent Assault & Battery on a Person.  The charges arose from allegations that the juvenile, who was 16 at the time, went up to an adult woman from behind; pulled down her pants; and then made inappropriate comments about her private area while also grabbing his genitals.  A week after this incident, the juvenile did something very similar to a second woman.

The juvenile ultimately admitted sufficient facts for a finding of guilty and the case was Continued Without a Finding for a period of time.  After entering his plea, however, the juvenile filed a motion asking the judge to relieve him of the obligation to registry with the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board.  He was granted a hearing on this motion and he attempted to convince the motion judge that he was not a risk of re-offending, nor a danger to the public.  In support, he introduced expert testimony by a forensic psychologist who had performed a Estimate of Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offense Recidivism.  This test involved  a finding of 26 potential factors, and the forensic psychologist testified that, based on her assessment, the juvenile only exhibited 4 of the 26 factors suggesting relative to the risk of re-offending.  Her conclusion was that she saw no signs of sexual deviant behavior.

Following the hearing, the judge denied the juvenile’s motion to relieve him of sex offender registration.  As reasons, the judge did not credit the expert’s opinion; placed weight on the “egregious” circumstances of the conduct involved and ruled that there was, indeed, a risk of re-offense such that the juvenile would be required to register with the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board.

The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registration Act, M.G.L. c. 6, sections 178C-178P, requires persons who have been convicted of a sex offense to register, irrespective of whether the offender is an adult or a juvenile.  There is a presumption of sex offender registration unless one of three statutory exemptions are met.  In this case, the juvenile sought an exemption under section 178E(f), which exempts registration for persons who have not been sentenced to immediate confinement and who, within fourteen (14) days of sentencing, are determined, based on the circumstances of the offense and the person’s criminal history, that the sex offender does not pose a risk of re-offense.

Although the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that the juvenile court judge had properly exercised discretion in rejecting the juvenile’s motion for relief, the SJC went on to clarify the standard by which the determination for relief on the issue of ‘re-offense’ be made.  The SJC considered the question to involve two factors: (1) the level of risk warranting relief from registration; and (2) the basis on which the judge assesses the risk.

This case is illustrative of the damaging and long-lasting collateral consequences that a conviction for a sex offense may have.  The implications, including sex offender registrations, may very well be more profound for juvenile offenders for no other reason than their status in life, e.g., how sex offender registration may impact their school; college; future employment, and relationships.  For this reason, it is very critical that before any admission to the police and/or agreement to resolve a sex offense case by any plea is made, that the defendant fully evaluate any defenses he may have, whether that means reducing the the charges to an offense not requiring registration or considering proceeding to trial and being acquitted.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis has experience in defending persons charged with Massachusetts Sex Crimes.  He is available 24/7 for consultation and can be reached directly at 617-325-9500 or online at Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer Contact Page.