In upholding an “ex post facto” legal challenge by a former sex offender, the Nebraska Supreme Court is likely to stir some anger. But the high court should be applauded for upholding the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on adding new punishments for previously adjudicated crimes.
Why the anger? The person who won the ruling committed a horrendous crime — a crime that should be (and has been) punished to the full extent of the law.
It is perfectly natural to feel anger about a horrible crime. In our country, the law provides us with the tools we need to punish crime. But there are sensible limits. The U.S. Constitution says, in effect, that if you pass a law this week you cannot use it to re-punish people whose crimes were committed before your new law went into effect.
Nebraska’s attorney general and some courts have a recent history of disregarding the Constitution when it comes to sexual offenses. They and other politicians seem willing to deny Constitutional protections to classes of people we fear or simply don’t like. That is why this recent Nebraska Supreme Court ruling is pivotal. It comes down on the side of the Constitution, which in this case also is the side of someone who perpetrated an awful crime. But he’s been punished, and we cannot keep on adding punishments just because we don’t like him.