A federal appeals court took aim Thursday at Michigan’s sex offender registry law. The court ruled on a narrow legal issue but suggested the law may be unconstitutional.
The Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals said changes to the law cannot be applied retroactively: “As the founders rightly perceived, as dangerous as it may be not to punish someone, it is far more dangerous to permit the government under guise of civil regulation to punish people without prior notice.”
That means restrictions could be lifted on hundreds of people on the registry, and some could have their names removed. But the court went further and said Michigan’s registry law isn’t working as intended and seems designed more to punish offenders than protect the public. “What we need to do now is have legislative hearings to figure out what is the best way to protect the public,” says Miriam Aukerman. “The court was very concerned about the research in this case, and the evidence shows that registries are not effective.”
Aukerman says too often people convicted of non-violent or minor offenses are placed on the registry. She says that makes it difficult or impossible for the public to use the list to determine who poses a genuine risk. “We certainly hope that the Legislature will take the court’s concerns very seriously,” she says.
The alternative, she says, might be a flood of individual lawsuits from convicted sex offenders. And, she says, the risk that the entire law will be struck down as unconstitutional. A lower court judge in Detroit has ruled against key provisions of the law.