Sex Offender Registration Trumps Juvenile Offender Anonymity

By William Peacock, Esq. on February 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An anonymous juvenile offender, whose identity is sealed under federal law, was required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) after he sexually assaulted his two half-sisters, ages 10 and 6. Being a juvenile offender, his court case was kept under seal (hence his lack of identity in this case) due to the requirements of the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA).

Obviously, there's a bit of dissonance between the two laws. SORNA requires identification and registration, as well as semi-regular appearances for photos. FJDA requires that a juvenile's record be sealed unless he is tried as an adult, as the legal system does not wish to have the crimes of a minor follow him for life.

Unsurprisingly, the public policy of protecting potential victims and notifying neighbors of a sex offender's presence trumps the forgive-and-forget of the juvenile system. The Fourth Circuit provided a legal basis for this preference, citing a few obvious propositions:

Specific Laws Trump Broad Laws

SORNA explicitly carved out a group of juvenile sex offenders, narrower than the adult offenders, who would be required to register, specifically those who commit the equivalent of aggravated sexual assault and are themselves over the age of 14. FJDA just says to keep juvenile offenders' information under wraps. When one law is more specific than another conflicting law, it generally wins out.

More Recent Statute Controls (Footnote 2)

The applicable Latin phrase --- don't you just love when one of these applies -- is leges posteriores priores contrarias abrogant, or the later statute prevails. It's a long-standing legal principal dating back to at least 1859 in our own jurisprudence, and likely to the common law beforehand. SORNA's relevant provisions were enacted in 2006. FJDA's provisions are from 1996. SORNA wins.

Legislative History

It that isn't enough for you, the legislative history also points to Congress' intent with SORNA's juvenile provisions. The Congressional Record states:

"While the Committee recognizes that States typically protect the identity of a juvenile who commits criminal acts, in the case of sexual offenses, the balance needs to change; no longer should the rights of the juvenile offender outweigh the rights of the community and victims to be free from additional sexual crimes ... [SORNA] strikes the balance in favor of protecting victims, rather than protecting the identity of juvenile sex offenders."

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