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Rhode Island High Court Allows Family Court to Require Sex Offender Registry for Defendant

Family court is not a criminal court. Therefore, generally, the family court does not hear cases that involve criminal defendants, nor does it impose criminal penalties on defendants. However, Rhode Island allows some criminal cases with juvenile defendants to be transferred to family court. The state believes that in some situations the family court is better equipped to handle cases involving young people.

Moving a case from criminal court to family court has both pros and cons for defendants. In most cases, the defendant will be given a lesser penalty in family court than they would in a criminal court. This is because the family court is more focused on rehabilitation and will usually order interventions like counseling, and other forms of treatment . Conversely, criminal defendants often have more rights during the process, including a right to counsel, and stricter rules of evidence that the state must follow. Your skilled Rhode Island family law attorney can help you understand how these differences will apply in your situation.

In the case at issue, a juvenile defendant was adjudicated by the family court for delinquency after being found responsible for two counts of second-degree child molestation sexual assault. The victims were under the age of 14. As part of the adjudication, the defendant was required to register as a sex offender.

Judicial Discretion and Sex Offender Registration

Rhode Island allows trial justices to waive sex-offender registration in certain circumstances. Specifically, Rhode Island statute allows registration to be waived when “the conduct of the parties is criminal only because of the age of the victim.” In this case, the defendant argues that the judge should have used their discretion to waive registration because the acts he engaged in would not be criminal if the victims were older.

The judge explained that this statute is meant to apply to so-called “Romeo and Juliet” situations. This is when the children are close in age (but under the age of consent) and they engage in “consensual” sexual contact. She pointed out that the element of coercion in this case and the significant age difference between the parties meant that she did not have the discretion to waive registration. The judge further stated that even if she did have discretion, she would not waive the requirement to register.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court here upheld the family court judge’s determination. They explained that the statute requires a two-step analysis. First, the trial judge needs to look at the case to determine whether the conduct was only criminal because of the age of the victims. Then, if that requirement is met, the judge may require registration for only as long as they feel it is necessary to rehabilitate the juvenile and protect the community.

The high court stated that clearly the legislature meant only in cases where the actions would not be criminal but for the age of the victim, or else every juvenile adjudicated delinquent for child molestation would be eligible for the relief. Here, the appeals court agreed with the trial court’s interpretation which meant that in cases where there is coercion, like this one, the first prong does not apply and thus she did not have discretion to waive registration.

Contact an Experienced Rhode Island Family Law Attorney Today!

If you have any family court issues, an experienced Rhode Island family law attorney should be our first call. The attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC can help answer any family court questions you may have. Call (401) 300-4055 or use the form on this web site to contact us today for a free consultation!

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