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NEW SEX OFFENDER LAW FACES OPPOSITION

The law will list offenders age 14 and older on the same site as adult sexual predators.

Public defenders plan to challenge a new law that expands Florida's sex offender registry to include teens as young as 14 who have been convicted in the secrecy of juvenile court.

The law that went into effect July 1 will list those juvenile offenders, their addresses and other information on the same Web site as adults convicted as pedophiles and sexual predators. The designation will follow them and their families when they enter schools, move and apply for college and jobs.

"Juveniles are not adult offenders," said Gordon Weekes, an assistant public defender based in Fort Lauderdale. "There are all kinds of successful efforts at rehabilitation."

Weekes and other public defenders say they will challenge the new law, which applies only to teens judged delinquent after July 1, when the first case comes up.

They argue it violates constitutional guarantees of due process because juvenile cases are decided by judges, not juries, to protect the child's identity and offer a better chance for rehabilitation.

The requirement applies to delinquents who have committed, attempted, solicited or conspired to commit sexual battery and some types of lewd battery or molestation when 14 or older.

The law, though, includes a provision that allows judges to remove them from the list if they are 17 or under and no more than four years older than the victim and meet certain conditions.

One of those is that the removal cannot conflict with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act that went into effect last year. It requires that teens 14 and older who engage in sexual contact with children younger than 12 be included in state community notification laws such as Florida's sexual predator list.

To comply with the Walsh Act, named for a 6-year-old South Florida child who was abducted and murdered in 1981, an offender seeking removal from the list would have to prove the sexual activity was consensual. The provision is designed to exclude what are known as "Romeo and Juliet" cases.

"I don't want some guy or girl involved in a romantic relationship on a public sex offender's list," said Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate.

Ring, though, has no problem with requiring nonconsensual offenders to go on the list. He said teens 14 and older should know right from wrong.

The law passed unanimously in the House and Senate, but at least one legislator is having second thoughts.

"We don't want to put some juvenile who's having a bad day on the list for something stupid, some lewd prank," said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors. "Depending on how this law is understood, we may have to revisit this in the next session."

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