Mandatory Lifetime Registry Requirements for Juvenile Offenders Violates Eighth Amendment
In People in the Interest of T.B., the Colorado Supreme Court recently assessed the constitutionality of Colorado’s sex offender registry statute’s requirement, codified in section 16-22-113, C.R.S (2020), that juveniles, adjudicated delinquent for two or more sexual offenses, must register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives and are ineligible for deregistration.
Our Supreme Court started its analysis by recognizing that children are different than adults. Specifically, children “have a tremendous capacity to change and reform.” Indeed, TB demonstrated this principle.
TB committed his first sexual offense when he was 11 years old, and his second when he was 15 years old. After his second offense, he successfully completed offense-treatment and probation. The record reflected significant rehabilitation; he worked hard to achieve positive personal transformation. TB twice petitioned to deregister when he was 20 and 25. Although the court no longer believed he was at risk to reoffend and acknowledged that registration burdened him, the court denied him relief in light of the governing law and statutory scheme.
TB appealed the order, and a division of the Court of Appeals held for the first time that juvenile mandatory lifetime sex offender registration constituted punishment, splitting from numerous prior divisions who held registration was not punishment. The Colorado Supreme Court granted review.
Our Supreme Court discussed how the Eighth Amendment must be applied according to evolving standards of decency and how the United States Supreme Court had made clear that youth matters for sentencing purposes in Roper, Graham, and Miller. Our Court explained various ways that adults and minors differ in terms of emotional maturity, culpability, and amenability to rehabilitation. Our Court next addressed several jurisdictions, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, that found constitutional infirmities in their juvenile registry schemes.
Turning to the question of whether mandatory juvenile registration constituted punishment, the Court considered the intent and effects of the statute. Although the legislature did not intend for the statute to be punitive, the Court found the statute’s effects were punitive in application. Specifically, mandatory juvenile registration imposed affirmative disabilities, resembled traditional shame-based punishments, promoted deterrence and retribution, applied only to criminal offenses, and did not bear a rational relationship to its purposes. Thus, the Court held mandatory juvenile registration constituted punishment for Eighth Amendment purposes.
Next, the Court provided several reasons why this punishment was cruel and unusual. The Court discussed how this punishment stigmatized juveniles for their entire lives, causing disastrous consequences that followed them regardless of their character improvement or good behavior. The Court also found that mandatory juvenile registration failed to serve any legitimate penological or public safety goals. Accordingly, the Court held that the statute requiring mandatory lifetime registration for juveniles with two or more adjudications violated the Eight Amendment. The Court remanded for a new hearing on TB’s petition.
Lynn Noesner is a Lead Deputy State Public Defender in the Appellate Division. In that capacity, she works to protect the state and federal constitutions and ensure that her indigent clients receive fair process in the criminal system. Lynn received her law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and her Bachelor of Arts in English and Women's Studies from Colgate University. In her free time, Lynn enjoys yoga, hanging out with her four year old daughter, and fighting oppression