Monday, May 12, 2008

MO lawmakers Ignore Supreme Court

The Missouri : Missouri sex offenders with decades-old records might soon be told to stand and be counted, a practice that's already common in other states and seems to be gaining momentum as state legislatures seek to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act law.

Last week, the Missouri House Rules Committee approved a Senate Joint Resolution that would require almost all sex offenders to register, regardless of conviction date.

The resolution seeks to upend a 2006 Missouri Supreme Court opinion that ruled retroactive registration --then common in the state -- illegal under the Missouri constitution. The decision led to the removal of more than 4,300 names from the Missouri sex offender registry.

Last year, Tennessee toughened its sex offender registry laws to apply to anyone in the state who has ever been convicted of certain sex crimes. Prior to the change, only those who committed crimes after Jan. 1, 1995 -- when the state's registry law took effect -- were required to sign up.

Michigan lawmakers are mulling over a bill that would force adults convicted of criminal sexual conduct with a child to register, regardless of conviction date. Michigan enacted its registry law -- known as a Megan's Law in most states -- in October 1995, and has typically only required those convicted after that date to register.

The U.S. Constitution specifically bars states from passing ex post facto laws --those that punish someone for activity committed before the law was enacted. But retroactive enforcement of Megan's Laws is not a new concept.

Iowa, New York, New Jersey and a host of other states require offenders to sign up if they were on parole or probation for a sex crime when the registries took effect.

Such provisions have come under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which say they go too far in regulating the lives of offenders.

"It's a fiction to say that this is a civil matter when this is, in fact, an extension of the criminal punishment," said Mike Kopie, a Chicago defense attorney and co-chair of NACDL's Sex Offender Policy Task Force. "There has to be a balance between protecting the community and the rights of people to go on with their lives."

The increased strictures mandated by the Walsh Act may prompt new challenges to the retroactive application of Megan's laws, said Michael Iacopino, also a member of the NACDL's task force.

"They're requiring sex offenders to report more often, they're requiring sex offenders to report more information," he said. "It's becoming more like a probation and parole as opposed to a regulatory system."

States are expected to comply with the Walsh Act by July 2009. Failure to do so could result in the loss of federal grant money.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported in March that 19 states have taken steps to comply with the act. Among them: Ohio, which has faced outcry over a provision that retroactively increased the period of time sex offenders in the state must register.

More than 3,000 offenders have filed suit to challenge the change, said Erin Rosen, an Ohio assistant attorney general.

Prior to the new law, the majority of Ohio's 27,000 sex offenders were required to register for 10 years, Rosen said. Now, most must register for life.

The sticky issue of ex post facto registration requirement is unlikely to go away anytime soon.