A day after the Utah Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a key case challenging the constitutionality of the state's sex offender registry, prosecutors are being inundated with calls and notes from parents.
The parents are concerned their children will be prosecuted and forced to register as sex offenders for taking indecent pictures with their cell phones.
Prosecutors are saying a scenario posed by a Utah Supreme Court justice during oral arguments Wednesday just isn't realistic.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a convicted sex offender who is challenging the constitutionality of the requirement to register as a sex offender. The man, who served time for sexually abusing a 9-year-old girl, claims the sex offender registry stigmatizes him as a sexual predator and that he has a due process right to prove to a court that he is not a danger to the community. Currently the sex offender requirement is handled by Utah Department of Corrections policy.
During oral arguments in the case Wednesday, Chief Justice Christine Durham alluded to the prosecution of minors taking indecent pictures with their cell phones and sending them to friends as a possible offense that could result in kids being registered as sex offenders.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Laura Dupaix, who argued on behalf of the state in the case, said that is just not realistic.
"There are no juveniles in the sex offender registry" currently, Dupaix said. According to state juvenile law, a juvenile offender has to be ordered held in secure confinement until they are 21 in order to require them to be a registered sex offender. Taking dirty pictures with a cell phone hardly seems like an offense deserving such a punishment, Dupaix said.
"We all know that is not a serious offense," she said. However, she said prosecutors also need to send a message that such behavior is also not socially acceptable.
The Supreme Court's discussion about cell phone pictures stems from the Davis County attorney's prosecution of about 28 junior high students accused of trading nude and sexually explicit pictures over cell phones. Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said he intended to send a message to teens that this sort of behavior is not acceptable, but he never intended to charge them with a crime that would land them on the sex offender registry.
Rawlings said since the supreme court's hearing Wednesday, he has been inundated with calls by concerned parents who are worried that children are being put on the sex offender registry.
"None of these kids are going to be registered sex offenders," Rawlings said Friday.
He said he hopes to get the word out to parents that while trading in indecent pictures will get juveniles in trouble, being on the registry is not a realistic option.Dupaix said she has filed a letter to the Supreme Court, clarifying Utah's laws regarding such behavior.