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Monday, July 01, 2013

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues one, on requiring juvenile to register as sex offender

In N.L. v. State of Indiana, a 9-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Rush writes:

Sex-offender registration aims to protect innocent members of society from repeat sex offenses by formerly convicted sex offenders, while our juvenile system aims to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. To balance these competing goals in light of registration’s serious social consequences and far-reaching effects, trial courts may place a child on the sex offender registry only if they first find by clear and convincing evidence that the child is likely to repeat a sex offense. But our trial courts have struggled with how to apply that statutory requirement. Today, we clarify that a juvenile may only be ordered to register as a sex offender if, after an evidentiary hearing, the trial court expressly finds by clear and convincing evidence that the juvenile is likely to commit another sex offense. Because the trial court’s order here placing N.L. on the registry was neither issued in connection with an evidentiary hearing, nor accompanied by any findings, we reverse and remand. * * *

Conclusion. It is well within a trial court’s discretion to hold more than one hearing to determine whether a juvenile’s risk of reoffending warrants placing them on the sex offender registry. But when it does so, every hearing held for that purpose must be an “evidentiary hearing” as J.C.C. requires. That is, juveniles must have the opportunity to challenge the State’s evidence and present evidence of their own; and if an “evidentiary hearing” is continued, they must have continued representation by counsel at the subsequent hearings as well. Finally, the child may not be ordered to register unless the trial court expressly finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child is likely to commit another sex offense — based exclusively on evidence received at such a hearing. Here, the May hearing was not an “evidentiary hearing” as J.C.C. requires; N.L. did not have the benefit of counsel in May, even though he did for the February hearing; and the trial court made no findings about N.L.’s likelihood to reoffend.

We therefore reverse the order requiring N.L. to register as a sex offender, and remand to the trial court with instructions to conduct a new “evidentiary hearing” as J.C.C. requires to determine whether N.L. is likely to commit another sex offense, and thereafter to make an express finding of whether the State has made that showing by clear and convincing evidence.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 1, 2013 10:48 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions