Mo. court asked to spare teen from sex offender registry

Thursday, April 26, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Supreme Court judges indicated Thursday that a St. Louis County teenager should not be forced to register as a sex offender for a crime that was added to the list of registry offenses several months after he pleaded guilty.

An attorney for the teenager, identified in court as "John Doe," said that to require his client to be listed on the sex offender registry would violate a constitutional prohibition against retroactive laws.

Several Supreme Court judges agreed with his assertion while hearing arguments on the case. But they did not immediately rule.

"To add an offense (to the registry requirements) is a substantial change to the statutes and that cannot be applied retroactively -- it's as simple as that," Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. said.

The case involves a 16-year-old boy who videotaped himself having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend, then later played the tape for some friends, said the teenagers' attorney, Brian Harvell, of St. Louis.

The teenager was not convicted for the sexual act itself but pleaded guilty on May 21, 2004, to the crime of "public display of explicit sexual material" involving the videotape.

Three months later, a state law took effect adding that crime to a list of other offenses for which people are required to register as sex offenders.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Pritchett argued to judges that, because the sex offender registry already exists, people pleading guilty to crimes not currently requiring registration should take into account the possibility that legislators could later add those crimes to the list.

"Your position would gut the retrospective laws provision in the constitution," Limbaugh responded to Pritchett.

Pritchett also argued that the teenager's case was moot because a 2006 law would allow him to ask a court to remove him from the registry.

But Judge Laura Denvir Stith noted that the 2006 law applied to people already on the sex offender registry. In the teenager's case, his name has never been placed on the registry because he has contested the requirement in court.

Stith said the teenager would first have to place his name on the registry in order to then ask that it be removed. But requiring him to register in the first place would be unconstitutional, she said.

Harvell said that if his client is required to register, it could make him subject to additional penalties for previously refusing to register.

Case is John Doe v. Matt Blunt, SC87786.

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