The level scales in the hands of Lady Justice represent the legal ideal that all must be treated fairly in a court of law.

A bill before the Nebraska Legislature aims to codify that for a narrow but vulnerable population – minors whose sex offenses were adjudicated in other states’ juvenile justice systems before they moved to Nebraska. In these cases, state borders prevented them from receiving the same treatment as those whose cases were handled in Nebraska.

Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood introduced LB689 to close this loophole. Though it relates to only a small fraction of minors whose offenses are handled in juvenile court elsewhere, the legislation is worthwhile because of the impact being designated as a sex offender would have on these children – at a time when peers in Nebraska aren’t subjected to the same outcome.

Explicitly guaranteeing equitable treatment for minors in Nebraska and other states in state code is a no-brainer, particularly in light of a recent court decision that law enforcement has had to work around to address this situation.

Last summer, the 8th Circuit Court ruled in favor of a 15-year-old Nebraska resident originally ordered to register as a sex offender because of a case adjudicated in juvenile court in Minnesota, where he’d previously lived, when he was 11.

Throughout court proceedings, both sides acknowledged that the teen would not have been compelled to register as a sex offender had he committed his offense in Nebraska, as it would have been handled entirely in juvenile court. But state code currently doesn’t specify a minimum age for offenders to be listed when moving to Nebraska.

The judge confirmed a lower-court ruling in the boy’s favor, a decision we hailed in August as “the correct, fair call.” Since then, the Nebraska State Patrol, which maintains the state’s sex offender registry, has followed suit.

Now, Blood’s simple, two-sentence bill aims to forever do away with the inequity that would have treated this teen and the roughly 30 Nebraska minors in similar situations differently.

Rehabilitation, rather than such high-profile punishment, is the proper outcome for offenders so young. Instead of affixing a scarlet letter from offenses committed in their youths to these minors’ names as they seek higher education and jobs, they need to learn from their mistakes and be redirected into become contributing members of society.

But equal application of the law must come first, especially on an offense that carries the gravity of punishment as a sex crime. The scales of justice must place minors whose offenses took place outside Nebraska on level pegging with those inside the state’s borders.

Journal Star, Jan. 19, 2018

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