Senate bill could change how juvenile sexual offenders are added to registries


MISSOULA, Mont. - Montana lawmakers will hear arguments for a bill that could keep some juvenile names off the sexual assault registry list.

Senate Bill 17 would "provide that juvenile offenders with no history of sexual offenses or for whom registration is not necessary to protect the public do not have to register as a sexual offender."

Montana law currently states those under the age of 16 convicted of sexual crimes automatically are registered into the sexual assault registry. If the bill passes, it would allow a judge to decide whether the offender is a danger to the public and whether they should be submitted to the sexual assault registry.

"All we're doing with this bill is putting the burden on the prosecution to say if a youth is convicted, then you have to put forth evidence as to why registration is necessary," said bill author and former judge State Sen. Nels Swandal (R-Wilsall).

Swandal says the law currently leaves it up to the defendant to explain why they should not be listed in the sexual assault registry.

"The judge can make the determination that the youth will go into treatment or counseling," Swandal said. "If that will sufficiently protect the public, we don't need them to register."

"Typically when we talk about youth offenses, we're talking about Romeo and Juliet offenses, and maybe just an age difference," Swandal added. "A lot of times when youth register they drop out of school. It can be tough to get a job, and sometimes their family leaves the area."

He says he mostly intends the bill to apply to juveniles under the age of 16 who are not allowed to give sexual consent according to Montana law.

"(The bill could apply to) cases simply in an age difference where both parties consented, although they couldn't by law. That's (an example) where maybe registration isn't necessary for the protection of the public and you wouldn't be required to registration," he explained.

Even though the bill passed unanimously in its first and second reading in the Senate, it's controversial among the public.

"I don't think we should be charging juveniles with criminal crimes, because it's going to be following them for the rest of their life," said Missoula resident Garner Rollins. "It may just be two kids having fun together."

"I personally think they should have to register. A sexual offense is a sexual offense. It doesn't really matter the age limit on it," said resident Rex Allen. "It's good for the community, because people need to know where they're at."

Swandal says the bill could also apply to minor convictions for crimes like public urination or indecent exposure.

Swandal says the bill outlines some occasions where juveniles would be required to register, such as second-time offenders or if a case is particularly violent.

"If it was a forceful rape, violence was used or threats were used, that's a situation where registration would be in the interest of the public," he said.

The bill will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday.

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