Supreme Court reverses requirement for juvenile to register as a sex offender

A juvenile sex offender will not be required to add his name to Indiana’s sex offender registry after the Indiana Supreme Court decided Wednesday that the state had not met the requirements for juvenile registration.

After suffering through sexual abuse and the death of close family members during his childhood, J.D.M was diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder and bipolar disorder in 2012. That same year, J.D.M.’s older brother found him and a 9-year-old boy lying in a provocative position in his bedroom, both with their pants removed. J.D.M. was 15 at the time of the incident.

J.D.M. was subsequently charged with being a delinquent child for committing child molestation, which would be a Class C felony if committed by an adult. After a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, the Wernle Youth and Family Treatment Center determined that J.D.M. was suffering with traumatic grief and was likely to re-offend.

The court ordered J.D.M. to remain in treatment at Wernle, where he underwent treatment for sexually maladaptive behavior. A Fayette County probation officer recommended his continued treatment before discussing probation, and the court agreed to that plan.

As his 18th birthday neared, the juvenile court held a sex offender registration hearing in October 2014 and Wernle reported that he still posed a “high risk of sexual recidivism” due to his continued viewing of pornography and his continued traumatic grief. At a subsequent hearing in August 2015, while J.D.M. was still at Wernle but making progress, the juvenile court ordered him to register as a sex offender, finding that the state had presented clear and convincing evidence that he was likely to reoffend.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the Fayette Circuit Court’s decision in May 2016, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the order for J.D.M. to register as a sex offender in J.D. M. v. State of Indiana, 21S01-1702-JV-84.

Justice Mark Massa, writing for the unanimous court, first wrote in the decision that under the Indiana Sex Offender Registration Act, a sex or violent offender must register for 10 years after the offender is released from a penal facility or secure juvenile detention facility or is placed on parole, probation or in a community transition program. Further, when dealing with juveniles, SORA requires that a court may only order the juvenile to register if he or she is on probation, has been released from a secure facility and has been expressly proven to likely reoffend.

The juvenile court agreed not to address the conditions of J.D.M.’s probation until after he completed his treatment, Massa wrote, so for the purposes of SORA, he was not considered to be on probation. Thus, the court failed to prove under Indiana Code 11-8-8-19(a) and 11-8-8-5(b)(2) that the conditions had been met to require J.D.M. to register.

Further, Wernle is a non-secure facility, so even if J.D.M. had been released, his release would not be enough to satisfy the registration requirement conditions, Massa wrote.

“Until J.D.M. is actually released and placed on probation, the possibility of his continued rehabilitation at Wernle exists, and should be allowed to develop,” the justice wrote. “Indeed, the court reports and testimony reveal that J.D.M.’s risk of sexual recidivism decreased in between the two sex offender registry hearings in this case.”

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