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Indiana Supreme Court: Juvenile May Not Be Ordered to Register as Sex Offender Until Release

by Lonnie Burton

On February 15, 2017, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals decision affirming a Fayette Circuit Court ruling which ordered a juvenile sex offender to comply with the state's registration requirements. The high court held that the plain and unambiguous language of the registration statutes does not allow a court to decide if a juvenile must register as a sex offender until the juvenile has completed his term of confinement and rehabilitation.

The case concerned that of J.D.M., who was adjudicated at the age of 15 of molesting a 9-year-old boy. In 2015, as J.D.M. neared his 18th birthday and his release from confinement, the circuit court informed the parties of the need to hold a sex offender registration hearing. Under Indiana law, in order to require a juvenile to register as a sex offender, a court must find after a hearing that "the juvenile is likely to be a repeat sex offender." The law also prohibits such a hearing until the juvenile is released from custody.

Here, with J.D.M.'s release "imminent," the court held the sex offender regisitry hearing, determined that J.D.M. was likely to reoffend, and ordered him to register as a sex offender upon his release. J.D.M. appealed, arguing that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to enter that order while he was still incarcerated and, presumably, still being rehabilitated.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's order, and J.D.M. sought review by the Indiana Supreme Court, which reversed.

"We believe the legislative intent here is to hold the sex offender registration determination in abeyance so that the juvenile has the opportunity to be rehabilitated during detention," the court wrote.

The high court found unconvincing the state's argument that because J.D.M. release was imminent, there was no realistic chance for further rehabilitation, and thus the record before the circuit court was sufficient to maske a registration determnation.

"Until J.D.M. is actually released and placed on probation, the possibility of his continued rehabilitation (1 exists, and should allowed to develop. ... Accordingly, we find the juvenile court erred in conducting the sex offender registry hearing while J.D.M. remained" incarcerated, the court concluded.

The case was remanded to the juvenile court "for proceedings consistent with this decision." It is unclear if a new sex offender registry hearing can be held.

See J.D.M. v. State of Indiana, No. 21S01-1702-JV-84 (S. Ct. In. 2017).


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Related legal case

J.D.M. v. State of Indiana



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