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Friday, November 7, 2008

South Dakota Supreme Court Gives Juvenile Sex Offenders Break

A couple weeks ago, I rained on GOP State House candidate Patricia Stricherz's morning by criticizing her support for easing the laws on juvenile sex offenders. I thought it was politically unwise to focus on what struck me as a fringe issue that wasn't on anyone's radar (not that I, of all people, should criticize anyone for behaving in a politically unwise fashion).

Well, turns out juvenile sex offenders were on the South Dakota Supreme Court's radar. The justices ruled that South Dakota's sex offender laws violate the Constitutional rights of juveniles by treating them more harshly than adults.

As AP reports it, the appellant, a fifteen-year-old boy from Butte, admitted raping two kids, ages 7 and 9 (not the sort of harmless teen Stricherz was talking about). Instead of ordering the boy castrated (my first choice), the judge handed him over to Corrections and required him to register on the state's sex offender list. With the brain cells not otherwise occupied with further fantasies about raping little kids, the defendant successfully argued that the sex offender registry law is unconstitutional, in that it treats juveniles more harshly than adults:

Adult offenders sometimes get a suspended imposition of sentence, which means a conviction in essence is wiped out if the person successfully completes probation. That offender then may be able to have his name removed from the sex offender registry.

The boy’s appeal argued that the law is unconstitutional because juveniles cannot get a suspended imposition of sentence that allows their names to be removed from the sex offender registry.

The state argued the law has a legitimate purpose in protecting the public from sex offenders. But the Supreme Court said the state has not provided any rational basis for treating juveniles more harshly than adult offenders ["Court Says Sex Registry Law Unfair to Juveniles," AP via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2008.11.06].

Fair enough. The Constitution is important, and the law should not prescribe unequal punishment (or ways to get out of punishment). But note that the ruling doesn't make Stricherz's argument that it's unfair that juveniles be required to register as sex offenders; it just says that juveniles must be allowed the same chances to get off the registry as adult offenders. Nonetheless, Attorney General Larry Long says the ruling may require the state to erase all juvenile sex offenders from the list "until the Legislature can fix the law," AP reports.

Looks like Russ, Mitch, Gerry and the rest of the 2009 Legislature just got something to take care of during their first week in Pierre.


  1. great post. you're absolutely right. what i don't get is why they think they have to soften the laws for juveniles. why don't they just toughen them up for adults to make it equal?


  2. The degree of each case needs to be weighed, not necessarily wave a magic wand over all juvenile rapists or sex offenders. As an example, a fifteen year old who rapes seven and nine-year olds should be treated with much more reserve and concern than a seventeen year old who has sex with his underage teen girlfriend. One shows potential for repeat offense and a certain mental inconsistency, where the other may be young love. The fifteen year old who rapes kids under the age of 10 is likely to repeat and the public deserves to be warned.

  3. Letting judges do their job independent of ham-handed legislative and mob-rule referendum meddling?

    What a radical.


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