Federal Judge to hear new arguments on unconstitutional Michigan Sex Offender Registry

By Justin Dwyer

Lawyers will make their case in front of a federal judge on Wednesday over what to do about the state’s sex offender registry.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled nearly four years ago that many of the requirements of Michigan’s registry are unconstitutional. But the law hasn’t been changed, and people continue to be on the list.

“The court has said that this registry is so ineffective, that it is also unconstitutional,” says Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan. “And yet the Legislature has done nothing to fix it.”

In its August 2016 opinion, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals described Michigan’s Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA) as “a byzantine code governing in minute detail the lives of the state’s sex offenders.”

“SORA brands registrants as moral lepers solely on the basis of a prior conviction,” the court wrote in its opinion. “It consigns them to years, if not a lifetime, of existence on the margins, not only of society, but often, as the record in this case makes painfully evident, from their own families, with whom, due to school zone restrictions, they may not even live.”

The court declared parts of Michigan’s Sex Offenders Registration Act unconstitutional because some things retroactively applied to people whose convictions happened long before the law was put in place.

“And while many (certainly not all) sex offenses involve abominable, almost unspeakable, conduct that deserves severe legal penalties, punishment may never be retroactively imposed or increased,” the judges for the Sixth Circuit wrote in 2016.

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