This past year three GRL clients who were adjudicated of sex offenses in juvenile court have been granted reprieve from the sex offender registry based upon a novel argument – that the imposition of a lifetime registration violates the prohibition against ex post facto laws. You may be wondering what does ex post facto mean? Both the United States Constitution and the Iowa Constitution prohibit enforcement of a penalty that was not in effect at the time the crime was committed.
To fully understand the argument that was made for these clients, a bit of a history lesson is required. Iowa’s sex offender registry law went into effect on July 1, 1995. At the time the law went into effect, all sex offenses required registration for a period of ten years. On July 1, 1999, new legislation was passed which created a classification of offenses that were deemed “aggravated offenses.” These “aggravated offenses” include:
- Sexual abuse in the first degree in violation of Iowa Code section 709.2;
- Sexual abuse in the second degree in violation of Iowa Code section 709.3;
- Sexual abuse in the third degree in violation of Iowa Code section 709.4(1)(a);
- Lascivious acts with a child in violation of Iowa Code section 709.8(1)(a) or (b);
- Assault with intent to commit sexual abuse in violation of Iowa Code section 709.11;
- Burglary in the first degree in violation of Iowa Code section 713.3(1)(d);
- Kidnapping, if sexual abuse as defined in Iowa Code section 709.1, is committed during the commission of the offense; and
- Murder in violation of Iowa Code section 707.2 or 707.3, if sexual abuse as defined in Iowa Code section 709.1, is committed during the commission of the offense.
A person convicted of an “aggravated offense” is required to register for life. The 1999 amendments also required lifetime registration for a second or subsequent conviction for a registerable offense.
In 2009, the sex offender registry was revamped. One of the biggest changes in that legislation was that these new laws could be applied retroactively to anyone who was currently subject to the sex offender registry requirements. Both the United States Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court have held that the sex offender registry is not a punishment, it is for protection of the public. Because the registry is not deemed a punishment, these registry laws could be applied retroactively to individuals without violating the prohibitions against ex post facto laws.
However, in 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion wherein it declared that the sex offender registry is a punishment for a child adjudicated in juvenile court. The basis for the decision was that juvenile records are typically sealed and not available to the public; however, once a child is placed on the registry their offense is published on the website.
Two of the GRL clients were adjudicated in juvenile court for offenses that occurred during the period of July 1995 and July 1999, when the law only authorized a ten-year registration. However, because they were still required to register as sex offenders in 2009, when new laws could be applied retroactively, they were required to register for life. The juvenile courts involved agreed that the imposition of a lifetime registration for these individuals were ex post facto violations and removed them from the registry.
The other GRL client was adjudicated of offenses that occurred prior to July 1995, before the registry was in effect. GRL’s argument that the juvenile court lacked authority to place him on the registry because it was an ex post facto violation was granted and the client was removed from the sex offender registry.
There is hope for individuals who were adjudicated in juvenile court of sex offenses that occurred prior to July 1, 1999, that they can get removed from the sex offender registry. Feel free to contact GRL Law for a consultation to see if you could benefit from this legal argument.