Critics say sex offender registries violate constitutional rights

This article looks at why critics and some courts say that sex offender registry laws are unconstitutional.

When a person is convicted of a crime and serves their sentence, they expect to be able to have a fair shot at returning to society and rebuilding their lives. The last thing they expect is for the state to try passing laws imposing new punishments on them - such punishment is, after all, explicitly forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. However, as The Hill reports, when it comes to sex offender registration, constitutional rights are often trampled on and few have been willing to fight back against such violations until recently.

The problem with sex offender laws

Sex offender laws are often justified on the basis of public safety. Proponents of these laws claims that they protect vulnerable members of society - especially women and children - from habitual sex offenders.

However, the problem with such laws is that, especially in recent years, they have been expanded to include not just habitual reoffenders but a wide variety of convicted felons. The definition of a sex crime can be broad and not all offenders who commit sex crimes necessarily pose a continued risk to the public after they are released from prison. However, sex offender registries essentially send the message that sex offenders can never be rehabilitated and are always a danger to society - regardless of the severity of their crimes or how long ago those crimes occurred.

Because people on a sex offender registry have their addresses made available to the public, they must live with the social stigma that goes along with being a registered sex offender. That can make it very hard for them to find work, a place to live, or even enjoy simple day to day activities. Such registries also often place curfews on offenders and subject them to regular police contact.

Are sex offender laws constitutional?

Because sex offenders are such a socially stigmatized group, passing these troubling and possibly even unconstitutional laws has been relatively easy. However, as the Washington Times reports, critics and the courts are starting to push back, especially in regards to retroactive sex offender laws.

Last year, for example, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled that Colorado's sex offender laws were unconstitutional because they essentially amounted to public shaming and an extended sentence. The law claimed that sex offenders do not enjoy the same privacy rights as their fellow citizens.

Other courts have also found similar laws to be unconstitutional. Many states, for example, have tried forcing those convicted of sex crimes to register even if their crimes were committed before the state even had a sex offender registry in place. A Michigan court recently struck down a law in that state that required sex offenders to register even if their crimes occurred before Michigan's sex offender registry existed.

Criminal law help

Anybody facing criminal charges, especially for a sex crime, should contact a criminal defense attorney right away. Such charges can upend one's life and the consequences of a conviction can be especially severe. An attorney can help defendants understand what rights they have and how to uphold them.