Should 14-Year-Olds Have to Register as Sex Offenders?

Ever since fliers calling 14-year-old Baron Brown-Lights a dangerous sex offender started to appear around his South Carolina neighborhood, he has stayed mostly inside his mother's house.

The teen was convicted last year in juvenile court of aggravated sexual assault for abusing his 4-year-old cousin. He avoided jail time, but was forced to register as a sex offender: His name, photograph, home address and school are posted online.

Baron is the state's youngest publicly registered sex offender and one of the youngest people on a sex crimes Web site nationwide. He can't go to public pools and must stay away from children under the age of 9. Certain jobs are off limits; he and his mother have had trouble finding an apartment, his mother told ABC News.

"It ruined his life," said Aries Brown, who told ABC News her son is innocent.

"One girl said she was afraid to talk to him," his mother said. "What's going to happen when he applies for a job?"

It's a question states are going to have to grapple with in the coming years. Only a handful of states now require juvenile sex offenders to post their personal information online, and some allow teens to be taken off when they turn 18.

But the Adam Walsh Act, which states must implement by 2009, requires teens as young as 14 who are convicted of certain serious sex crimes to register for life.

The act is designed to target only dangerous sexual predators. "We're talking about teens who committed incredibly horrific sex crimes," said Laura Rogers, who heads the Department of Justice office that will implement the law.

But it has raised concerns among some lawmakers and prosecutors, who fear it may sweep into its net teens who don't deserve to be permanently labeled as sex offenders. A group of civil rights attorneys and public defenders are planning nationwide challenges to the laws' constitutionality.

Prosecutors should "look at each case on an individual basis," said Susan Broderick, a former Manhattan prosecutor. "Any time you have a blanket rule, people that don't belong are going to be swept in."

  Sex Offender for Life

Baron was convicted last year in New Jersey juvenile court of aggravated sexual assault for molesting a 4-year-old cousin. New Jersey juvenile court records are not public.

When he moved to South Carolina earlier this year, Baron was placed on the state's sex offender Web site. According to Nicole Pittman, a lawyer who is leading efforts to challenge juvenile sex offender registry laws nationwide, South Carolina is one of only a few states that include juveniles in their online registries.

"It's not fair" to be placed on the registry, Baron said in a phone interview with ABC News. "An older person, probably. But a kid ? No. It's not fair."

But states that pass laws to comply with the Adam Walsh Act would require teens over 14 who commit crimes like Baron's to register for life. The act, named for the son of "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh, requires states to pass their own juvenile sex offender registry laws by 2009. If states don't, they risk losing some federal funding.

Under the act, any juvenile delinquent over 14 who commits sexual abuse by force or threat or any sex act with a person under the age of 12 must register as a sex offender. The teens may have to post their home addresses, job location and schools online. They can apply to get off the registry after 25 years with a clean record, Rogers said.

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