Government & Politics

Lifetime sex offender registration for 14-year-old rapist constitutional, court rules

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A 14-year-old can be required to register for life as a sex offender, the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled on Friday.

The decision follows a Kansas Supreme Court opinion that backed the constitutionality of lifetime registration for adults.

A juvenile, identified as N.R. by the appeals court, pleaded guilty in 2006 to rape. He was granted probation, but received an underlying sentence of 24 months in prison.

A court also ordered him to register as a sex offender, but didn’t say how long he had to remain on the list. N.R. thought that meant spending five years on the list from the time of his sentencing, according to an appeals court summary of the case.

But before N.R.’s five years expired, the Legislature changed the law to require lifetime registration for some juvenile offenders.

In 2017, N.R. was charged with two counts of failing to register. He then alleged the lifetime requirement violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In Kansas, offenders must register within three days of moving into a county where they plan to live. Each time they register, they pay a fee of $20, complete a form and have their photograph taken. They must report to law enforcement in person four times a year.

According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, there is no state law that mandates where an offender can or cannot live, but restrictions can be set as part of probation.

The appeals court found that lifetime registration “is not part of a juvenile offenders’ sentence.” It also ruled that lifetime registration — even for juveniles — is not punishment.

“N.R. has shown no reason why registration, which is not punishment for adults, should be considered punishment for juveniles,” the appeals court judges wrote in their opinion.

That reflects a 2016 state Supreme Court ruling that registration requirements are not punishment for adults. The case involved a 19-year-old man who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl.

In the 2016 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature didn’t intend for the registration requirement to be punishment. Justice Lee Johnson, dissenting, said the wide distribution of registry information had a punitive effect on offenders.

“Public shaming is much more effective if the public knows where the offender lives, works, and/or attends school, as well as the make, model, and license number of the vehicle he or she drives,” Johnson wrote.

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.
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