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Supreme Court to decide if sex offender registry violates rights

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    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Freedom of Information         Jun 13, 2002    

Supreme Court to decide if sex offender registry violates rights

  • A class action suit against Connecticut agencies responsible for the state’s sex offender registry may resolve constitutionality of posting information about sex offenders without hearings.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed May 20 to hear a case involving whether Connecticut’s registry of sex offenders violates the offenders’ rights because the state posts information about them without first holding a hearing to determine whether they are actually dangerous to the community.

The plaintiff, known in court papers as John Doe, represents a group of people subject to registration and notification requirements of the state’s sex offender registry law.

Doe sued state agencies responsible for administering the registration act in February 1999, alleging that the registry violated his 14th Amendment rights. He claimed the law hurt his reputation by disclosing his registry information, implying that he was dangerous to the community, without providing him with notice or a meaningful opportunity to be heard.

A trial court agreed, holding that the law’s provisions deprived the plaintiff of his constitutional rights. For these reasons, the trial court also prohibited any public disclosure of the registry either in printed or in Internet form.

In October 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) affirmed that decision.

A decision by the Supreme Court may affect other states’ sex offender registries. Like many other states, Connecticut requires persons convicted of certain criminal offenses, mostly sexual in nature, to register with the state upon their release into the community. The law provides for disclosure of registry information to the community without providing another hearing to determine how dangerous an offender might be..

Depending upon the offense committed, convicted persons are required to register for 10 years or for the rest of their lives. Sexually violent offenses require lifetime registration while all other offenses require a 10-year registration period. Some sex offenses do not require registration if a court determines there is no threat posed to society.

Each registered offender must provide the state with fingerprints, a photograph, a list of identifying characteristics, a blood sample for DNA analysis, a criminal history report, and home address.

The Connecticut law requires the information to be gathered by the state Department of Public Safety, made available to other law enforcement agencies, and made accessible to the public in printed form during normal business hours. It would also be made available on the Internet, searchable by ZIP code or town name.

The original Megan’s Law was enacted in New Jersey in memory of Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1994 by a neighbor whose two prior convictions for sexual offenses were unknown in the community. All states subsequently adopted their own versions of the law.

(Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe) MM

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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