Project Off the Record
In February 2016, the Children and Family Justice Center filed an amicus brief in support of a case (In re A.C.) challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois’ Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Acts and in support of the removal of A.C. from the registry.
The amicus argues in part: “Mandatory lifelong sex offender registration coupled with onerous reporting requirements and the constant risk of public disclosure not only violates state and federal constitutional provisions guaranteeing due process and proscribing cruel and unusual punishment, but also flies in the face of the protections afforded children since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). With attention to the community’s safety and the child’s accountability, Illinois has consistently treated children differently from adults, stressed rehabilitation, and shielded them from adult consequences so that young offenders may develop competencies to become productive members of society. The juvenile court has long been a court of second chances. Lifetime registration as a sex offender thwarts that goal.”
The amicus states that a primary purpose of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act is to “provide an individualized assessment of each alleged and adjudicated delinquent juvenile, in order to rehabilitate and to prevent further delinquent behavior through the development of competency in the juvenile offender” and that individual sentencing tailored with judicial discretion in the best interests of each juvenile offender is the hallmark of the Juvenile Court Act.
“Contrary to the disposition standards and primary purposes of the Juvenile Court Act, A.C. was automatically required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his lifetime without regard to whether he actually poses any future risk to the community,” according to the amicus. “He was foreclosed any individualized determination prior to the imposition of this penalty. Such a scheme cannot stand under either the recent jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court or the broader protections afforded individuals under the Illinois Constitution.”
Others joining in the amicus include the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Civitas ChildLaw Center at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, John Howard Association of Illinois, Juvenile Justice Initiative, and Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender.
Since 2009, CFJC's attorneys have represented over 25 youth seeking to terminate their requirement to register as a juvenile sex offender. In addition to direct representation, CFJC has developed a comprehensive manual and sample pleadings to assist other pro bono advocates.
Take a look at a few of CFJC's client stories demonstrating the impact of registries on youth.
"Onarga raised me," says Nick, a former DCFS ward. Onarga is not a person. It's the residential treatment facility where he was placed after molesting a younger cousin at the age of 12 at his aunt's home. He lived there for years after being removed from his aunt's, and before that, his mother's house for being severely abused and neglected.
Nick was quickly added to the Illinois Sex Offender Registry. But despite his rough childhood, he thrived. After winning a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, he studied social work and hoped to work with young people. However, in Wisconsin, his record followed him, and he was added to their state sex offender registry.
When he graduated from Wisconsin, an evaluator found that he posed no risk to the community and CFJC students and attorney's successfully petitioned the court for him to be removed from the Illinois Sex Offender Registry. It was not clear what would happen in Wisconsin, and Nick feared he would have to flee the state. But with the aid of CFJC advocacy, Wisconsin honored the Illinois Court's order and removed him from the Wisconsin registry as well. Still, more than a year after he was removed from both registries, his name can be found on the sex offender list at the university. Nick's case demonstrates why it is imperative that juvenile offenders have access to legal representation to petition the court for removal from the state sex offender registry at the earliest possible opportunity.
A non-relative adopted Steven after he was removed from his home due to abuse. At around 12 years of age, he sexually acted out on two younger neighbors. He was adjudicated delinquent and added to the sex offender registry. He received extensive treatment.
Steven was a high-achieving student in high school, earning a college scholarship. His probation officer advised him that he did not need to notify universities on his applications of his delinquency adjudication because it was not criminal. But when Steven went to a private university, he was put on the sex offender registry. The school then brought disciplinary charges against him for submitting a false application due to not mentioning his delinquency adjudication. The university first removed him from student housing and then revoked his admission altogether.
With the aid of CFJC, he was removed the Illinois registry after being evaluated. However, though Illinois juvenile sex offenders have the opportunity for removal, whether their removal is honored by another state has so far been variable. This seriously limited Steven's options for attending colleges in different states.