Judge Rules Against Labeling Nebraska Boy A Sex Offender

Editorial, 3/27: Follow-up on court’s ruling

Justice was well served when U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf handed down a ruling that blocks a 13-year-old boy who moved to Nebraska from Minnesota from being labeled as a public sex offender.

Now further action by Nebraska officials is needed to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to other youths.

If the judge’s ruling is not enough to change state officials’ interpretation of Nebraska law, then the Legislature may need to readdress the issue.

In his 20-page ruling Kopf said that if the boy had done in Nebraska exactly what happened in Minnesota, he would not have been required to register as a sex offender.

“It therefore makes no sense to believe that the Nebraska statutes were intended to be more punitive to juveniles adjudicated out of state as compared to juveniles adjudicated in Nebraska,” Kopf wrote.

The boy in the case was 11 years old when he was adjudicated for criminal sexual conduct in juvenile court in Minnesota. He was ordered to complete probation, counseling and community service. His name was placed on a predatory offender list that is visible only to police in Minnesota.

The Legislature went to some length to exclude juveniles from the Nebraska Sex Offender Registration Act unless they were convicted in adult court, putting the exclusion into law even though it meant giving up thousands in federal funding.

However, one section of the law says that “any person” who moves to Nebraska and is required to register as a sex offender under the laws of any other jurisdiction must place their name on Nebraska’s list of registered sex offenders.

When the boy moved to Nebraska to live with relatives, the Nebraska State Patrol notified his family in August, 2014, that the boy was required to register or be prosecuted. Instead they filed suit.

Today the boy is a healthy, happy kid and flourishing in school, according to Omaha Joshua Weir.

“It would’ve been a tragedy if he would have been branded a sex offender,” Weir said. “That’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life.”

Criminal justice officials have begun questioning requirements that juveniles be required to register as offenders. A 2006 federal law withholds funding from states that don’t follow federal requirements.

Nicole Pittman, a director at the advocacy group Impact Justice, told National Public Radio that sometimes federal rules mean that kids are labelled as sex offenders for acting like kids. “We have kids that are on the registry for streaking at a football game, peeing at a park,” she said, “Romeo-and-Juliet-type offenses where you have a 17-year-old dating a 14-year-old.”

Nebraska legislators acted wisely when they exempted some juveniles from the offender registry. Juveniles who move from other states should be treated no differently.