FEARLESS Topic Saturday: Legal Challenge to Unconstitutional Nebraska Registry Law

FEARLESS on Saturday, July 13, will address this topic:

Challenging Nebraska’s Unconstitutionally Retroactive Registry Law

Join us at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 13, at Holy Family Church, 1715 Izard Street, Omaha. Park on the street, lock your vehicle and leave no valuables inside, and enter the church through the side social hall entrance off 18th Street.

We will look at the case of a Registered Citizen and FEARLESS member who is charged with failing to register despite the fact that he reported as required but the sheriff failed to document his visit. He is now challenging Nebraska law, which imposed an ex-post-facto registration requirement that was not included in his original sentencing order. This gentlemen is just one of many people whose Constitutional rights were trampled in 2009 when the Legislature enacted LB 285. 

We have had an extraordinary response to our recent blog post on this topic. Many people had the terms of their sentencings violated by LB 285.

Here is a little bit of the history we will review:

Prior to 2010, Nebraska had a registry system that was based on assessed risk to reoffend. Only those assessed and found to be at high risk to reoffend were listed on the public-shaming website. In 2009, the state attorney general, in an effort to hype his campaign for the U.S. Senate, championed the unconstitutional LB 285, a draconian bill that threw out the risk assessment system and forced every former offender onto the public-shaming website. The measure criminalized internet use by former offenders.

Members of the Judiciary Committee asked for an assurance that LB 285 was not retroactive. They should have read the bill before they sent it to the floor, because it was retroactive. In a hearing, the Judiciary Committee was lied to and told there was no retroactivity in the bill.

The Legislature passed LB 285 and it took effect in 2010. The state’s registry instantly tripled in size. As a result of this bill, many Registered Citizens who were assessed previously and found to be low-risk were reclassified and placed on the registry for life. Their reporting requirement went from once a year to multiple times per year.

A footnote on the failure-to-register case: LB 285 had a provision that required sheriff’s departments to provide Registered Citizens with a hard-copy record documenting their required in-person reports. Shortly after LB 285 went into effect, sheriff’s offices switched to electronic record-keeping and illegally failed to provide the documentation required by law. Nebraskans Unafraid campaigned to require sheriff’s offices to follow the law. Had we been successful, the current failure-to-register case might never have arisen.

Fortunately, a federal judge in Lincoln ruled that the state could not criminalize the internet and declared that part of LB 285 unconstitutional. Ruling in a lawsuit that was supported by Nebraskans Unafraid, he ripped LB 285 as lousy law, but he left the registry portion of it intact. Unfortunately, it is that part of the law that creates joblessness, homelessness and wrecks families. If you are on the public-shaming website, you can’t get a job, landlords will not rent to you so you can’t find housing, and because your information is public, you and your family can be the target of vigilante violence.

LB 285 of 2009 did none of the things its supporters thought it would: It didn’t even get the former attorney general elected to the Senate. It does not protect the public. These are some of the points that will be raised as we move forward with a legal challenge to  the law. 

One courageous state senator introduced a revision to LB 285 in 2011 that would have eliminated the retroactivity, but the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky scandal was much in the news and a majority of state senators were frightened and refused to consider the revision. Since that time, Nebraska’s public-shaming website has inflicted harm on families while lawmakers have been incapable of doing the right thing, which would be to defend the rights of people who happen to be unpopular.


Published by nufearless

Nebraskans Unafraid is committed to making our communities safer by ensuring that lawmakers and policymakers do not support laws that cause homelessness, joblessness and damage to families.

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