By Sandy and Robin . . . In Wisconsin a new battle is being launched in what is getting to be an old war. Civil rights attorneys Adele Nicholas and Mark Weinberg, seasoned soldiers in this war fought on behalf of persons forced to live as someone on a sex offender registry, have launched this latest skirmish due to a “village’s moratorium on any more sex offenders living there.”
In Texas, NARSOL’s affiliate Texas Voices is unwavering in its battles against legislation that targets those on the registry for special restrictions, most often those that limit the very presence of a registrant within an area designated as a “child-safe area.” These onerous restrictions often make finding housing and employment virtually impossible and can even rip registrants from the support of family. Mary Sue Molnar, the group’s executive director, spends unlimited hours every legislative session ferreting out these bills, organizing the troops, and descending on the capitol in Austin armed with written and oral testimony heavy not only with poignant personal stories but also with researched facts about the issue.
North Carolina has proven to be very fertile ground for these battles. With an extremely active affiliate there, NCRSOL, and a civil rights attorney, Paul Dubbeling, who is no stranger to battles involving restrictions on registered citizens, opportunities abound for challenges on constitutional grounds. The state legislature has continually added blanket restrictions on where registered people can work, live, socialize, and even worship. Mr. Dubbeling is extremely experienced in filing successful civil rights claims on behalf of registered people. Initially an understudy of Atty. Glenn Gerding of Packingham fame, Paul assumed more responsibility in the successful Does v. Cooper challenge to North Carolina’s old premises statute which prevented most registered people from being within 300 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, etc. In response to its loss, the N.C. Attorney General worked with legislative leaders to enact a new premises statute that ended up being more restrictive than the first. Working with NCRSOL and supported by NARSOL’s foundation, Dubbeling filed an ex post facto lawsuit in 2017 patterned after the ACLU’s challenge to the registration scheme in Michigan. Styled NARSOL v. Stein, the case finally went to trial in April 2021. We anxiously await a decision from Judge Loretta Biggs some time in summer or fall. In the midst of waiting for an outcome in that case, NCRSOL’s attorneys filed additional successful lawsuits challenging the vague statutory language used to determine whether or not people with out-of-state convictions should be required to register in North Carolina (Grabarczyk v. Stein) and are prepared to accept a substantial settlement in a lawsuit against the sheriff of Cherokee County who rounded up all the registered people in his county on Halloween in 2019 (Crisp v. Palmer). The Halloween case is currently in mediation.
In Arizona a battle waged on for years through court after court, only to be lost on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. May v. Shinn came about as a result of a legislative statute in which the burden of proof was shifted from the state to the defendant. Rather than for the state to be required to prove that Mr. May had criminal intent in his touching of a child, Mr. May, and others similarly situation, were put in the position of having to prove that they did not. Courts differed throughout the years of this lengthy battle with most favoring the plaintiff’s position that this burden-shifting was in violation of the Constitution. Hopes were high as the case reached the Supreme Court, only to be destroyed when the Court did not grant cert.
NARSOL has participated in other skirmishes whose outcomes are not yet determined. Rhode Island has proved a battlefield of long standing. The issue involves residency restrictions and would evict registrants from the homes where they had been living before the law was passed that increased the restricted distance from 300 to 1,000 feet. The ACLU filed Freitas v. Kilmartin on October 29, 2015. A restraining order was sought and granted the very next day, to remain in effect until trial, which was originally set to begin in January of the following year. The state was not ready, citing discovery issues. The trial has never taken place; the restraining order remains in place, and registrants remain, for now, in their homes.
Georgia saw battles launched on several fronts regarding signage on private property required at Halloween and other requirements not authorized by law. One county backed down after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from NARSOL; the sheriff and other officials in another vowed to fight on, and so did NARSOL. That case is ongoing and morphing into something different from what it started. Wherever it goes, we will be there.
Whether the battles are fought in the courtroom or in legislative chambers, they are fought. Some are lost; some are won. They will continue to be fought; NARSOL will continue fighting, until, one by one, enough are won that we will have won the war. This won’t happen in the next few months or, most likely, not even the next few years.
But it will happen.
As vice chair of NARSOL, Robin is the managing editor of the Digest, director of development, and provides assistance to the webmaster in keeping our websites running smoothly. He also serves as founder and president of Vivante Espero, NARSOL’s 501(c)(3) foundation and legal fund.