Young teens convicted of sex crimes behind the closed doors of juvenile court will now end up on Florida’s public registry of sex offenders, says the South Florida Sentinel. A state law that went into effect last month will list teens as young as 14 on the same Web site as adults who are convicted pedophiles and sexual predators. The designation will follow them and their families as they enter schools, move to new communities, and apply for colleges, trade schools and jobs.
Some public defenders and legal experts call law revolutionary because it makes public the actions of juvenile court. They say it may hinder rehabilitation of those who commit relatively minor offenses by publicly labeling them as sex offenders. Public defenders plan to challenge the law, saying it sentences juveniles as adults without allowing jury trials. Some specialists in the field say parents, often the first to learn of teens’ sex crimes, may be reluctant to seek help for their children if they will be labeled and their families’ homes identified on the sex offender list. “Their names, their home address, and other information are going to be there for the public to see,” said Jan Abee, who is helping the Department of Juvenile Justice carry out the law. Florida legislators unanimously approved the measure to comply with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and to qualify for millions of dollars in federal funding. The federal law, which went into effect last year, requires children 14 and older who engage in genital, anal or oral-genital contact with children younger than 12 to be included in community-notification laws, such as the predator list. Prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and public defenders say they always have had discretion in filing and prosecuting juvenile court cases, and that will become even more important.