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Second Challenge Filed in Florida

A second lawsuit was filed this week in Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida. This from the Palm Beach Post:

WEST PALM BEACH —

When a Palm Beach County man in 1993 pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious assault on a person under the age of 16, he made it clear he wouldn’t accept the plea deal unless he was assured his current and future employers would never find out about his transgressions.

Prosecutors agreed.

Four years later, that promise was obliterated when the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring sex offenders to register. While the unidentified man fulfilled the terms of his plea deal and was never arrested for another crime, his name, address and photograph are now readily available to anyone who can log onto the internet.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court this week, the man who is using the name John Doe to protect his privacy, is asking a judge to rule that the law shouldn’t apply to him.

Had the law existed 25 years ago, he could have used it as a bargaining chip in his plea negotiations with state prosecutors, wrote his attorneys Cindy D’Agostino and Barbara Scheffer. Failing that, he could have opted to go to trial.

Instead, the man who went to college, bought a home, got married, had a son and started a computer consultant business has had his life upended by the onerous, time-consuming and life-altering reporting requirements, they wrote.

“The registry has retroactively increased the punitive consequences of his plea deal,” which violates his constitutional right to due process, D’Agostino and Scheffer argue.

When Doe was convicted, the judge withheld adjudication and placed him on probation for 15 years, ruling that he was unlikely to re-offend.

Under the sex offender law, which has become increasing broad and restrictive since it was enacted in 1997, the judge’s ruling means nothing. Doe is now deemed to have “a high risk of engaging in sexual offenses” even though there is no proof of that, his attorneys wrote.

In fact, Fort Lauderdale psychologist Sheila Rapa, who examined Doe in 2016, found he posed “minimal to no risk of re-offending for a sexual assault,” according to an affidavit that accompanies the lawsuit. D’Agostino declined to detail the allegations against him.

The lawsuit is one of dozens that have been filed around the country in recent years, challenging state and federal laws that turn sex offenders into pariahs.

As recently as last week, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a similar case. It heard arguments about whether the U.S. Attorney General abused his power when he made the federal sex registry retroactive. The Texas Supreme Court is poised to decide whether people convicted before the sex registry law was enacted there must register.

In 2017, the nation’s high court struck down a North Carolina law that made it a felony for a registered sex offender to use social media “if the site permits minor children to become members.” In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the high court ruled that the law violated sex offenders’ First Amendment rights. Other challenges to various provisions of states laws have been lodged nationwide.

John Doe’s lawsuit was filed against Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and Richard Swearingen, head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The two were named because they administer the registry program as it impacts Doe, D’Agostino said.

County sex offenders register with Bradshaw’s agency. FDLE operates the web site that features addresses and photos of offenders. Neither of their attorneys could be reached for comment.

But, D’Agostino and Scheffer claim, the restrictions go beyond merely registering at the county stockade every six months. Doe has been shunned by his wife’s family and neighbors. One neighbor even filed a lawsuit against him. Police and probation officers turn up at his house unannounced.

The words “Registered Sex Offender” are branded on Doe’s passport, making him reluctant to leave the country with his family. Similar words are printed on his driver’s license.

Further, Doe can’t use Facebook because the social media giant has a policy of blocking sex offenders from creating accounts, they said. His 6-year-old son’s school uses Facebook to communicate with parents, making it difficult for him to participate in his child’s education.

He fears being barred from school events. He worries his son will be bullied if classmates learn of his father’s status.

Not surprisingly, the attorneys said, Doe suffers from depression. He made a deal 25 years ago and the terms were drastically changed without his knowledge or his ability to prove he is a danger to no one, his attorneys wrote.

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