The blindfold seen on statues of Lady Justice worldwide represents how the judicial system must not be affected by outside influences. All who enter a courtroom must, too, be treated fairly.

A Monday ruling by the 8th Circuit Court confirmed that justice must be blind to geographical boundaries and equitable to all juvenile Nebraskans, regardless of where they committed their offenses. By reaffirming that a teen should not be placed on the state’s sex offender registry because of a juvenile court ruling in his previous home state of Minnesota, the court ensured he received the same treatment as if he’d committed the act in Nebraska.

Listing the teen, now 15, whose juvenile case stemmed from an incident when he was 11, as a sex offender would have been inequitable. Throughout his court proceedings, all sides noted that if his offense had been committed in Nebraska, he wouldn’t have been placed on the registry because juvenile court adjudications are not criminal convictions under Nebraska law.

Furthermore, only juveniles convicted of sex offenses in Nebraska’s adult courts can be publicly listed as sex offenders. Until this teen’s case, however, the same protection wasn’t afforded to those whose cases were processed in other states.

By strongly confirming the decision of the lower court, the 8th Circuit Court made the correct, fair call.

In its defense, the Nebraska Attorney General’s office said it was following the law based on its interpretation of state statute as written, one that requires all sex offenders to register upon moving to the state – regardless of age. Public safety is paramount, which why this registry exists, but its application must be uniform.

Decisions about whom to list must be made fairly. The plaintiff is one of about 30 minors on Nebraska’s sex offender registry who was listed simply because he registered upon moving to Nebraska after his juvenile case was adjudicated in another state.

Now, the Attorney General’s Office and other state officials have clarification from the courts. A spokesman for the Nebraska State Patrol, which oversees the list, said the agency is already taking the appropriate, needed action to remove these juveniles from the registry.

A system that’s more punitive for crimes committed outside Nebraska’s borders than inside them creates a double standard that cannot exist if the justice system truly provides blind justice. The long-lasting ramifications of being listed on the sex offender registry – particularly for offenses handled in juvenile court – merit extreme care in their dispensation.

We applaud the court’s common-sense decision to ensure Nebraska fairly treats minors whose offenses are adjudicated through the juvenile justice system, regardless of where they occurred.

This is an opinion that previously appeared on Lincoln Journal Star.

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ALI Staff

The American Law Institute

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