The judiciary needs more discretion in handling cases that involve juvenile sex offenders, Clark County District Judge William Voy told a committee Friday.
He told the panel studying Nevada’s sex-offense laws, headed by Assistant Attorney General Keith Munro, that juvenile offenders as young as 14 shouldn’t be automatically have to be bound by registration and community-notification requirements for the rest of their lives. Rather, he said, judges should be given back the flexibility they had before passage of the federal Adam Walsh act to decide cases on an individual basis.
One reason, he said, is that juvenile sex offenders are very different from adult offenders in that a high percentage of them can be rehabilitated.
Voy said he hopes a study being conducted of 1,000 juvenile offenders in Clark County will prove what other studies have shown, that recidivism by juvenile offenders is just 8 percent and, according to one study, just 2 percent.
“Again, the juvenile is different from the adult offender,” he said. “The treatment of juveniles is very effective.”
That’s because their conduct is often rooted in mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse and the fact many of them were sexually abused when younger, he said.
The latest study, which involves cases dating as far back as 1979, should be finished in time for the 2015 Legislature.
The issue was raised during a discussion about whether Nevada’s version of the Adam Walsh act mandating registration and community notification of those who come in contact with all sex offenders as young as 14.
Voy ruled that provision of Nevada law unconstitutional but was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision.
He said Friday that judges take these cases very seriously and that he believes the decision about how to handle juvenile sex offenders should be in their hands. Both supporters and dissenters on the court argued strongly that the Nevada Legislature should do something about the state law.
In the opinion overturning Voy’s constitutionality ruling, the majority stated, “We agree that the prior statutory scheme, which left the decision to subject juvenile sex offenders of adult registration and community notification requirements to the discretion of the juvenile court based on specified factors, was a superior method of protecting the various interests at stake.”
The minority dissent first argued the requirement to list juvenile offenders is unconstitutional because it applies retroactively to offenders. They also argued that registration and community notification applied to juvenile offenders “are akin to the historical punishments of branding and shaming.”
At the same time, the state public defender’s office is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for a chance to overturn the Nevada high court opinion that was issued in July.