Supreme Court upholds Megan's Law statutes. (Identifying Convicted Sex Offenders).
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled to uphold Megan's Law statutes in two key decisions.
Those rulings, made last month, mark the first by the high court on Megan's Laws, which are designed to ensure that the public can obtain information about the backgrounds of convicted sex offenders. Versions of Megan's Law exist in all states and the District of Columbia.
In the case of Connecticut Department of Public Safety vs. Doe, the court ruled unanimously in favor of Connecticut's right to publish names, photographs, and other details about convicted sex offenders online without giving offenders the opportunity to argue whether or not they are still dangerous. Connecticut's Web site included information about offenders convicted of murder, rape, indecent exposure, and consensual sex with underage partners.
Two years earlier, a district court judge ruled that Connecticut's online registry was unconstitutional because it failed to discriminate between offenders who posed a risk and those who did not. The registry has been off-line for 2 years because of legal challenges.
But Connecticut's registry included a disclaimer stating that the presence of people on the site does not imply that they are still dangerous, U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote on behalf of the court. Furthermore, the fact that an offender seeks to prove "that he is not currently dangerous is of no consequence under Connecticut Megan's Law," Justice Rehnquist wrote.
Justice Antonin Scalia noted in a concurring opinion, "a convicted sex offender has no more right to additional 'process enabling him to establish that he is not dangerous ... [than] a 15-year-old has a right to 'process' enabling him to establish that he is a safe driver."
In the Alaska case of Smith vs. Doe, the court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of upholding a retroactive law requiring that convicted sex offenders be registered. The two men who challenged that law--who had served time and had been released for sex offenses--said the retroactive application of the law was illegal. But justices rejected that argument and ruled that the law was not excessive. Alaska's sex registration law requires convicted offenders to register quarterly to provide information about their lives, including residence, job, and physical description for 15 years after their release from prison.
The registration requirements "make a valid regulatory program effective and do not impose punitive restraints in violation of the ex post facto clause" of the Constitution, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom Justice Stephen G. Breyer concurred, wrote: "The duration of the reporting requirement is keyed not to any determination of a particular offender's risk of reoffending, but to whether the offense of conviction qualified as aggravated." Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a separate dissenting opinion.
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|Date:||May 1, 2003|
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