In 2012, when Adam Nesteikis was 25 years old, his friend told him to pull down his pants in front of a young girl. Adam did exactly that.
Adam is intellectually disabled, which means he didn’t realize he had done something wrong. He also didn’t understand what it meant when, after a trial, he was placed on the sex offense registry. He just knew that for some reason, he lost the job he loved wiping tables. He could no longer participate in the Special Olympics. And he couldn’t scuba dive—his very favorite activity—because the club practiced in a high school pool and he was no longer allowed to be near young people.
Thankfully, this injustice has finally been remedied: This year, he received a full pardon from the Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D–Ill.). His record will also be expunged.
“My husband and I were elated,” says Carol Nesteikis, Adam’s mom.
Adam and his parents live outside Chicago. He grew up happy and social, with serious developmental limitations. He stopped wetting his bed at 16. He always had to be reminded to brush his teeth and, later, to shave. He was friends with a neighbor—a younger man—who, it turned out, had been molesting him.
It was that young man who told Adam to expose himself. Both Adam and his neighbor were placed on the sex offender registry as a result.
Registrants are not allowed in any forest preserve or public park, which meant that Adam had to stop walking the dog on the trail and instead walked in circles around the apartment. Registrants also must avoid anyone under the age of 18, so Adam could no longer go to the movies with younger special needs individuals.
Losing his table-cleaning job meant he stopped having co-workers, a schedule, and any responsibility. Losing the scuba club meant he was no longer good at anything. In his isolation, Adam actually regressed, becoming more and more childlike.
“He can have meltdowns like a toddler,” says his mother. “He gets frustrated enough that you can hear him in his room, banging on things and just saying things over and over.” She worries he might never come back to the level of function—and happiness—he had enjoyed before the conviction.
Carol Nesteikis petitioned Pritzker for a pardon in 2021. Their presentation to the Illinois Prison Review Board went well, and the family was hopeful.
They waited nervously for two full years. But then, the pardon came through.
Nesteikis isn’t done, however. The organization she co-founded—D3: Decriminalize the Developmentally Disabled—is working on national legislation. She hopes to pass a law that mirrors Virginia’s SB133, which allows courts to “defer and dismiss” criminal cases if the defendant’s autism or intellectual disability caused or substantially contributed to their crime.
Adam’s placement on the sex offense registry did not decrease the chances that a young person would be molested. It merely decreased the quality of life for a person who already had plenty of struggles to overcome.