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Court finds sex offender registry law unconstitutional

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         HAWAII         Freedom of Information         Dec 6, 2001    

Court finds sex offender registry law unconstitutional

  • The high court barred local police departments and the state’s Criminal Justice Data Center from releasing information on sex offenders to the public.

Information on convicted sex offenders is no longer available to the public in Hawaii after the state’s Supreme Court struck down portions of its sex offender registration law as unconstitutional on Nov. 21.

The court held that Hawaii’s version of Megan’s Law, which requires convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement agencies and requires those agencies to publish personal information about the offender, violates an offender’s due process rights guaranteed by the state constitution.

All county police departments and the Hawaii Criminal Data Justice Center promptly removed the sex offender registries from their Web sites and public access terminals with notification that, due to the court ruling, the sex offender registry is no longer available for public viewing.

Prior to the ruling, the center made sex offender registries available by ZIP code and by street address. All sex offenders living in a particular ZIP code or on a particular street could be called up through the Web site or through public access terminals at the center. Now, only criminal histories on requested persons are given out since they are public records. There is a statutory $15 charge for each criminal history for any member of the public, including the media.

“We’re looking at legislative relief but there are no guarantees,” said Liane Moriyama, administrator for the center, adding that she’s heard a lot of outrage by the public against the court decision.

The case arose when Eto Bani pleaded no contest to a charge of sexual assault in the fourth degree for grabbing the buttocks of a 17-year-old girl in Waikiki. The district court then ordered Bani to register as a sex offender as part of his sentence pursuant to Hawaii’s version of Megan’s Law. Bani appealed, arguing that registration violated his constitutional rights to due process, privacy, cruel and unusual punishment, and equal protection under the law.

The Supreme Court held that the public notification provisions of Megan’s Law violated Bani’s due process rights by depriving him the opportunity to argue whether he poses a danger to society. After striking the statute down on due process grounds, the court refused to discuss any remaining constitutional claims Bani had in his appeal.

The Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center is an agency of the Department of the Attorney General responsible for the statewide criminal history record information system, the statewide automated fingerprint identification system, and the issuance of the Hawaii state identification cards.

The center maintains the registry, which has more than 1,600 sex offenders registered in Hawaii. From August 2000 to the day of the ruling, there have been more than four million hits on the center’s sex offender registry Web site page. Persons who have been convicted of certain sex offenses are still required to register under the law even though there is no longer a public notification process.

(State v. Bani) MM

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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