Children tried and convicted as adults for sex offenses in Alabama are subject to the state’s Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act, which imposes a lifetime obligation to register as a sex offender. The SPLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs who as children were tried and convicted as adults and forced to endure the debilitating effects of the state’s sex offender act.
The lawsuit, Pennington v. Taylor, describes how the law not only makes it a crime for teenagers to have consensual sex, but severely limits their employment, housing and social opportunities as adults, as well as places them on the sex offender registry for life, if tried and convicted as an adult.
The lawsuit recounts how Herbert Stevens, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, began dating his future wife when he was 14 and she was 12. In 1996, when he was 17 and she was 15, his girlfriend’s mother became upset the two were dating. She called the police and had him charged with rape. Despite her later asking the district attorney to drop the charges, Stevens was tried as an adult and charged with second-degree rape. He spent six months at a juvenile boot camp and never finished high school.
He has since been placed on the sex offender registry, which has made finding employment difficult. It also has interfered with his ability to participate in the lives of his three children. For example, when his 19-year-old son graduated from basic training with the military, Stevens’ sex-offender status prevented him from attending his son’s graduation.
The lawsuit outlines how the state’s sex offender law is unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It also violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses as well as the Ex Post Facto clause of the U.S. Constitution. The complaint also describes how the law violates the right to reputation guaranteed under the Alabama Constitution.