Sex offense registration for life unconstitutional, says SC Supreme Court

By Meg Kinnard . . . South Carolina’s Supreme Court says a state law requiring sex offenders to register for life without prior judicial review is unconstitutional . . .

According to the FAQ section of the state’s registry website, an offender will only be removed from the registry if the offense is “reversed, overturned, or vacated on appeal and a final judgment has been rendered,” or if they were pardoned.

In 2010, a man named Dennis Powell was convicted for criminal solicitation of a minor.

According to the Supreme Court ruling, Investigators said he was in an internet chat room in 2008 and planned to meet a 12-year-old girl at a skating rink in Lexington, but he was actually talking to an undercover officer . . . Powell was arrested, indicted, plead guilty, served his time and probation, and received psychiatric treatment.

Powell was told at his sentencing he had to register as a sex offender for life and has done so for more than ten years now.

Two doctors said he was low-risk for re-offending, the court said.

In 2016, Powell filed a petition with Circuit Court saying that requiring him to register for the rest of his life was excessive and deprived him of due process and equal protection . . .

The state Supreme Court upheld the Circuit Court decision and said Powell should be taken off the registry immediately.

The Circuit Court agreed with him, but the State Law Enforcement Division appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.

That’s the decision we saw come out today.

The Supreme Court said it’s not constitutional to require offenders to register for the rest of their life without a chance to see if they are actually high risk to re-offend.

The ruling said, “The lifetime inclusion of individuals who have a low risk of re-offending renders the registry over-inclusive and dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement… Moreover, there is no evidence [that]… all sex offenders generally pose a high risk of re-offending.”

The Circuit Court also said that 1994 sex offender law didn’t allow for publishing the registry online.

But the Supreme Court did not uphold that part of this case, which means South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) can continue posting the registry on the internet.

The Court gave the General Assembly twelve months to rewrite the law and provide sex offenders a chance for judicial review . . .

Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said the ruling will likely not impact his county-level law enforcement operations much.

“The sex offender registry is very important to the safety and security of residents in our 46 counties,” Lewis said. “Many people rely on the registry to make decisions about where to live. Employers use it as well to check applicants to jobs. It’s an excellent opportunity to help protect citizens.” . . .

Justices called South Carolina’s sex offender law “the most stringent in the country.”

Read the full piece here at AP News.

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5 Thoughts to “Sex offense registration for life unconstitutional, says SC Supreme Court”

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  1. Frank Stuart

    If it is illegal for a state to require registration for life, how is legal for the federal government to do it. I live in Texas where registration for my crime is ten years after which you can apply to be removed. But because I was charged under federal laws, I have to register for life with no possibility of being removed from it.

    What’s good for the states should be good for the Federals!

  2. Jonathon Merritt

    I see them making it technically possible but realistically impossible for anyone who actually had a victim. You will spend thousands of dollars for a dream that they will deprive us of.

  3. Kenneth

    You can make the arguement that the sex offender registry is for the protection of the people, then why isn’t there a violent offender registry? Surely people would want to know if they live or will live near someone convicted of man slaughter, aggravated assault, burglary, etc.

    1. Tim in WI

      Why? You ask.
      Because, you can make fools out of some of the people all of the time; and you can make fools out all of the people some of the time, but you may not make fools of us all, all of the time.

      Some of us refused to sign our rights away via a court’s standardized waiver of civil rights. Obviously in that scenario AGs acted in “caprice” as if a waiver was in their possession. The absence of waiver creates a viable substantive 14th amendment claim, as intentionally pointed out in Connecticut DPS v. Doe. What is less obvious, is the factual lack thereof ( court’s judgement) of registration duty in the context of “germain evidence” in FTR, failure to register case scenario. May we rightly convict a man of prison escape without the prerequisite paperwork declaring his internment lawfully done? May we rightly convict a man of abscouding from probation without the proper court paperwork declaring his duty to report to probation
      dept. in the first place. These are simple concepts for any jury to understand.

  4. Jeff

    Plaut V. Spendthrift Farms, Inc., 514 U.S. 211 (1995) forbids the legislature and executive branches from modifying, annulling, revisiting, etc., Article III court cases whcih refer to federal
    court decisions however states have been applying the decision in Plaut as well. AWA contains language that violates the constitution at; Subtitle A, Sec. 113(d), “the Attorney General will have authority to specify the applicability of the requirements of this title to sex offenders convicted prior to the enactment of this Act….and to prescribe rules for the registration of such offenders…” Look at Plaut, where Justice Scalia basically writes that it is a violation of Article III when the legislative/executive branches change the outcome of a previously ruled court case. In the issue of AWA, the Article III violation of Separation of Powers comes when the Attorney General applied Sec 113(d) to pre-AWA offenders which resulted in changing the ruling judge’s decision by making all sex offenders subject to registration requirements. If the sentencing judge originally specified a prison term with probation to follow, and the offender completed that sentence, it becomes illegal for the legislator and USAG to impose further sanctions on those offenders who completed their sentences as imposed in a court of law. The legal beagles need to look at this stuff and make it a part of their presentation at NARSOL.