Demonization of sex offenders is nothing new. For years, legislators have found strong backing in expanding restrictions and strengthening registry requirements. Most recently, this came in the form of the 2005 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA), which resulted in the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), designed to standardize state registries.
However, we are now beginning to learn more about the profoundly negative impact these efforts have on the lives of those whose crimes were long-ago and often non-violent. Our Birmingham sex offender attorneys understand that the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a request to review a case out of Virginia, one of dozens of states (including Alabama) that agreed to bolster sex offender registration and notification under the updated federal law.
According to The Associated Press, the woman at the center of that case was convicted in 1993 of unlawful sex with a teenager after, as a 24-year-old swimming instructor, she had sex with a student who was 16. She served 30 days in jail and was ordered to register as a sex offender.
After several years, she could have made efforts to have her name removed from the registry, but for whatever reason, she did not.
Fifteen years after her conviction, in 2008, she was married with three children. It was then, two years after the passage of the AWA, that her state passed a new law that reclassified her – and thousands of others – as violent sex offenders. Suddenly, she was restricted from entering a public or private school building or attending church services without permission from either a state court or a local school board. She is afraid to do so, she says, because she doesn’t want to risk her children’s identities becoming public.
She has since filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the state law violates her right to due process. A federal district court rejected her argument, and that ruling was affirmed 2-1 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, though for different reasons. The appellate court ruled she first had to exhaust possible state remedies before challenging the law in federal court. A dissenting judge found that she had suffered injury, and she should be able to seek relief right away.
She now appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Previously, the high court had accepted a challenge to the SORNA part of the AWA, based on a complaint from a registered sex offender from Alabama. In the case of Carr v. U.S., the petitioner challenged whether 18 U.S.C. 2250(a), which imposes certain penalties on sex offenders who fail to register when moving out-of-state, applies to those petitioners whose interstate travel occurred after their conviction but prior to SORNA’s passage.
In this case, the court sided with the petitioner, ruling that in order to qualify for sanctions under the new law, the interstate travel and failure to register would have had to occur after the passage of SORNA.
That particular issue is becoming less a problem as more time goes by. However, the significant burden placed on registered sex offenders – years after their offenses and without any indication of subsequent wrongdoing –raises significant constitutional questions. This is why it’s highly possible that the Supreme Court will once again choose to weigh in on this issue.
We’ll be watching the developments closely.