Juvenile Justice Case Law – Offender Registry – State v J.E., 238 W.Va. 543 (2017)

Issue: Whether juvenile sex offenders must register on the Sex Offender Registry

State v. J.E., 238 W.Va. 543, 796 S.E.2d 880 (2017)

Two youths were adjudicated delinquent for having committed illegal acts which would be the equivalent of adult sex offenses.  In each case, the question of whether the child needed to register as a sex offender for life pursuant to the sex offender registry law was brought forth.  In response, the trial court certified the question of whether the youths needed to register as sex offenders to the West Virginia Supreme Court.  The trial court also certified the question of whether the children’s names could be disclosed under the statute allowing for public disclosure of those who had committed violent or felonious crimes.  See W. Va. Code §49-5-101(g)(“Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, or any other provision of this code to the contrary, the name and identity of any juvenile adjudicated or convicted of a violent or felonious crime shall be made available to the public”).

The Court concluded youths are adjudicated delinquent for their wrongdoings whereas adults are convicted of crimes for their illegal acts.  The sex offender registry law only requires those convicted of certain sexual offenses to register as sex offenders.  Therefore, the sex offender registry is not applicable to youths as an adjudication is not the equivalent of a conviction.  The Court referenced W. Va. Code §49-4-103, which states in part “any adjudication upon the status of juvenile delinquent heretofore made or rendered, may not in any civil, criminal or other cause or proceeding whatever in any court, be lawful or proper evidence against the child for any purpose whatsoever except in subsequent cases under this chapter involving the same child.”  The Court stressed that other states had specifically referenced juveniles in their sex offender registry laws in order to compel juveniles to register and the State of West Virginia did not so, which strongly suggests the legislature did not intend to have juveniles register as sex offenders.

The Court then ruled the sexual offenses of which the juveniles had been found delinquent are crimes of violence, thus allowing for the release of the juveniles’ names in accordance with the statute.

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