Some juvenile sex offenders could leave registry after age 25 under proposed bill

    BRIEF

    A photograph of the Denver Justice Center, a courthouse and detention building located in the Civic Center District, taken on Aug. 4, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

    Some state lawmakers want to change Colorado’s registration requirements for people who commit sexual crimes as minors.

    Sponsored by Reps. Adrienne Benavidez of Adams County and Judy Amabile of Boulder, and Sen. Robert Rodriguez of Denver, House Bill 21-1064 would allow certain juvenile sex offenders to stop registering with the state after turning 25, or once seven years have passed since they committed a sexual crime — whichever is later. People would only qualify for removal from the sex offender registry if they had not committed any sexual offenses as an adult.

    Registering as a sex offender — providing one’s name, address, date of birth and conviction as public information in the state’s database — comes with repercussions that often last a lifetime.

    When children are placed on the registry, “these families are destroyed,” Amabile testified at the House Judiciary Committee, noting that often with juvenile sexual crimes, the offender and the victim are in the same family. “They’re forced to separate, they often lose their housing, and they’re publicly shamed.”

    “The negative collateral consequences of placing youth on sex offender registries are well documented, including suicide,” Amabile continued. Children who are registered as sex offenders are four times as likely as their non-registered peers to report a suicide attempt in the last 30 days, according to a 2017 study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    In Colorado, people convicted of sexual offenses before turning 18 may petition the court to be removed from the registry after they’ve completed their sentence. But removal doesn’t happen automatically.

    Under current state law, unless a court approves their petition request by finding that registration would be “unfairly punitive,” juvenile sex offenders must register within a few days of being released from detention and every three months after that. HB-1064 would get rid of the “unfairly punitive” threshold for juvenile sex offenders petitioning the court for early removal from the registry.

    State Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, a Democrat from Adams County, represents House District 32. (Courtesy House Democrats)

    The bill would also remove the requirement for a juvenile who committed a sex crime while residing in a different state to register as a sex offender while living in Colorado, if the other state’s court removed the requirement for them to register.

    Additionally, HB-1064 would limit who can request information about registered juvenile sex offenders. The only entities who would automatically be able to access the information would be law enforcement, probation officials, parole officials, government child welfare agencies, the Colorado Division of Youth Services, and victims of sex crimes. Other people could request access to information about a juvenile sex offender by describing why they need it and affirming they do not plan to post it online, use it to obtain a financial benefit, or use it to harass or intimidate someone.

    “If you want to hire a 17-year-old babysitter, you can call (the Colorado Bureau of Investigation) and you can find out if that person’s on the registry,” Benavidez said during the Judiciary Committee hearing.

    The bill grew out of a legislative oversight committee that examined the treatment of people with mental health disorders in the Colorado criminal justice system, Benavidez said. A similar bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee in 2020 but had to be put on hold amid the COVID-19 health crisis and budget cuts.

    The 2021 version comes with a price tag of $82,000 for fiscal year 2021-2022, most of which would pay for the Department of Public Safety to oversee IT system changes; support local law enforcement agencies, offenders and victims in implementing the law; and train local law enforcement on the new requirements.

    HB-1064 was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 22 and will be voted on by House lawmakers in the coming days.