The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that juvenile offenders can be required to register under Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).
Despite the defendants' arguments that SORNA registration undermined the confidentiality provisions of the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA), the court determined that Congress intentionally carved out a discretion exception in SORNA.
Each defendant-appellant in the case committed an act of juvenile delinquency as a minor, that would have constituted aggravated sexual abuse with children if the defendant had committed the act as an adult. Each was ordered to comply with SORNA registration requirements. Each appealed the SORNA order, arguing that sex offender registration would defeat the FJDA's goals of discreet adjudication and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders.
Though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously concluded that "the purpose of the FJDA is to enhance the juvenile system by removing juveniles from the ordinary criminal justice system and by providing a separate system of 'treatment' for them," the court stopped short of extending that logic to SORNA requirements.
The FJDA and SORNA clearly conflict with one another. The FJDA provides that "unless a juvenile who is taken into custody is prosecuted as an adult neither the name nor picture of any juvenile shall be made public in connection with a juvenile delinquency proceeding." SORNA, on the other hand, requires that a sex offender registry include the name, address, physical description, criminal history and status of parole, probation, or supervised release, current photograph, and other identifying information.
When two statutes conflict, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals generally finds that the later-enacted statute governs. Noting that Congress clearly intended for SORNA to limit confidentiality in the case of certain juvenile sex offenders, the appellate court applied the same, later-enacted logic to this case, and ruled that the defendants were required to register as sex offenders under SORNA.
The court's decision here is not surprising. Public opinion strongly favors the state's interest in preventing repeat offenders from preying upon children, and that reasoning was reflected in the congressional record. When a court can rely on unambiguous legislative intent between conflicting statutes, the later-enacted statute will win.