By Dawn Wolfe . . . The ACLU and activists seeking changes to Michigan’s 40,000-person sex offender registry may have a new ally: new state Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel. Earlier this month, Nessel’s office filed briefs in two cases before the state’s Supreme Court, arguing that “the state Sex Offender Registration Act has gone far beyond its purpose and now imposes burdens that are so punitive in their effect that they negate the State’s public safety justification,” according to a press release announcing the action.
Michigan’s Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA) was first passed into law in 1994 as a non-public database tool for law enforcement, with no reporting requirements and a 25-year time limit, except for repeat offenders. Subsequent amendments to the law have not only made the database public, but also significantly increased the reporting burden on past offenders. Today, for example, a past sex offender who has completed their sentence and probation is required to report to the police in person within three days every single time they open an online account to make a purchase or comment online; get a new job; or even buy, rent, or borrow a car.
Additional amendments to the sex offender registration law were passed in 2006 and 2011, and pulled the reins tighter in ways that have been found unconstitutional in federal court. The most recent restrictions forbid past offenders from working, living, or “loitering” within 1,000 feet of a school, place the majority of past offenders on the registry for life, and retroactively placed people into tiers based solely on their past offense, rather than on the likelihood of their committing another offense.
In two decisions in 2015 and 2017 in the case of Does v. Snyder, separate federal courts found Michigan’s geographic limitations—and the amendment placing past offenders on the registry retroactively—unconstitutional. However, since that case was filed by the ACLU of Michigan on behalf of five individuals and not as a class action, the vast majority of past offenders in Michigan are now uncertain about which aspects of the state’s registry laws they have to comply with and which no longer apply to them.