A federal judge has blocked Nebraska from putting a 13-year-old boy who moved here from Minnesota on its public list of sex offenders.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf said if the boy had done in Nebraska exactly what he did in Minnesota he would not have been required to register as a sex offender "and he would not be stigmatized as such."
"It therefore makes no sense to believe that the Nebraska statutes were intended to be more punitive to juveniles adjudicated out of state as compared to juveniles adjudicated in Nebraska," the judge wrote in a 20-page order.
In Nebraska, lawmakers opted to exclude juveniles from the Nebraska Sex Offender Registration Act unless they were prosecuted criminally in adult court, even though it meant losing thousands in federal funding.
But the way the law is written made it appear that all sex offenders who move to Nebraska must register.
When the Minnesota boy in this case moved here to live with relatives, the Nebraska State Patrol determined he had to register because of a subsection of the law.
Specifically, it says the Sex Offender Registry Act applies to "any person who on or after January 1, 1997 ... enters the state and is required to register as a sex offender under the laws of another village, town, city, state, territory, commonwealth, or other jurisdiction of the United States."
The term sex offender isn't defined in the Nebraska act, but the patrol, which maintains the registry, defines it as an individual who has been convicted of one of the crimes listed in the act. The patrol has interpreted it to apply to sex offenders who are required to register "for any reason and at any age" under the laws of another state.
In this case, the boy was 11 when he was adjudicated for criminal sexual conduct in juvenile court in Minnesota. A judge there ordered him to complete probation, counseling and community service, and his name went on a part of that state's predatory offender list that is visible only to police.
Even before that, the boy had moved to Nebraska to live with relatives.
In August 2014, the Nebraska probation office notified his family he was required to register under the Nebraska Sex Offender Registry Act or could be prosecuted.
That same month, the boy's family filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the patrol from putting him on Nebraska's registry, which is public.
In Monday's order, Kopf concluded that the boy wasn't required to register in Minnesota because he was adjudicated in a juvenile court, not convicted in adult court, so Nebraska's act doesn't apply.
He cited Nebraska Juvenile Code, which specifically says juvenile court adjudications are not to be deemed convictions or subject to civil penalties that normally apply.
An adjudication is a juvenile court process through which a judge determines if a juvenile committed a given act.
Kopf's order said it was apparent that the purpose was to identify people guilty of sex offenses and to publish information about them for the protection of the public.
"It is equally apparent that the Nebraska Legislature has made a policy determination that information regarding juvenile adjudications is not to be made public, even though this has resulted in the loss of federal funding for non-compliance with (the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act)," he said.
Late Monday afternoon, Omaha attorney Joshua Weir said the boy's grandmother was so excited when he called with the news she had to pull over in a parking lot.
"They were very, very relieved," he said.
Weir said the boy is a healthy, happy kid now and flourishing in school.
"It would've been a tragedy if he would have been branded a sex offender," he said. "That's something that sticks with you for the rest of your life."
The state could choose to appeal the decision within the next 30 days.