Michigan Supreme Court: Registry Unconstitutional Punishment

  • Michigan’s highest court rules against retroactive application.
  • Provisions at issue are similar to changes enacted in Nebraska in 2009.
  • Ruling cites state and federal prohibitions on ex-post-facto laws.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, that requirements of the state’s Sex Offender Registration Act are an unconstitutional punishment for a man convicted years before the registry took effect.

The man’s attorney said the ruling in the Muskegon County case would impact others who were convicted before registry rules were amended in 2011.

The Supreme Court found that the 2011 statute was an unconstitutional “ex post facto” law that retroactively punished conduct, rather than an effort to promote public safety.

“We are asked to decide whether the retroactive application of Michigan’s Sex Offenders Act (as amended in 2011) … violates state and federal constitutional prohibitions on ex post facto laws,” the Supreme Court wrote.

“We hold that it does.”

Legislators enacted the state registry in 1994 as a confidential database for police. Certain offenders had to register and report address changes. The registry underwent changes and in 1997 became accessible to the public at police stations. It later went online.

The 2011 law required offenders to provide additional personal information, with changes in address or email, purchase of vehicles or travel, reported within three days, in-person.

The 2011 changes to Michigan law are similar to changes that were enacted in 2009 and put into effect under LB 285 in Nebraska.

A significant finding in the Michigan ruling:

“Defendant—as well as his similarly situated counterparts throughout the nation— endeavors to demonstrate that the dangerousness of sex offenders has been historically overblown and that, in fact, sex offenders are actually less likely to recidivate than other offenders. Further, he argues that sex-offender registries have dubious efficacy in achieving their professed goals of decreasing recidivism. A growing body of research supports these propositions. . . . For our limited purpose in examining the potential excessiveness of the 2011 SORA in regard to its public-safety purpose, these studies demonstrate that, at minimum, the 2011 SORA’s efficacy is unclear. Given the uncertainty of the 2011 SORA’s efficacy, the restraints it imposed were excessive. Over 40,000 registrants were subject to the 2011 SORA’s requirements without any individualized assessment of their risk of recidivism. The duration of an offender’s reporting requirement was based solely on the offender’s conviction and not the danger he individually posed to the community. Registrants remained subject to SORA—including the stigma of having been branded a potentially violent menace by the state—long after they had completed their sentence, probation, and any required treatment.”

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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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