Sex offender registry laws grounded in reality, not cruelty
by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
LAST year, a federal court judge ruled that Colorado's sex offender registry was unconstitutional because, basically, citizens might use it. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter wants that decision overturned, and is using arguments grounded in legal and practical reality.
Hunter, joined by officials from several states, has filed an amicus brief with the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals urging reversal of the decision handed down by District Court Judge Richard Matsch, who said the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment and due-process rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
Colorado's registration act poses a “serious threat of retaliation, violence, ostracism, shaming, and other unfair and irrational treatment from the public” for sex offenders, Matsch ruled.
While the case technically applies only to three convicted sex offenders in Colorado — David Millard, Eugene Knight and Arturo Vega — experts believe its repercussions could extend to other states. The attorney for the three men openly declares the goal is to get rid of online sex offender registries.
In his brief, Hunter notes decades of research shows sex offenders are at high risk of reoffending. Those convicted of molesting boys “exhibited a recidivism rate of 35 percent over 15 years, while convicted rapists exhibited a rate of 24 percent over the same time period.” Given that experts believe many sex offenses go unreported, those figures probably understate the severity of the problem. And there are numerous instances where children were kidnapped, raped and/or murdered by predators whose prior-conviction status wasn't known to neighbors.
Officials have long concluded that registries, which simply disseminate already public information about sex offenders, are a cost-effective way to minimize public risk. Such registries have existed since at least 1937 and federal law now requires states to provide sex offender information on the internet as a condition of some federal funding.
To declare a sex offender registry illegal, Hunter's brief argues Matsch “concluded that Plaintiffs as individuals did not pose a risk of future harm only by ignoring the vast empirical data that sex offenders as a class impose such a risk.” Indeed, the brief argues the fact that the plaintiffs “have not yet been caught committing another sex crime may only be evidence that the sex offender registry is working — it is allowing the public to remain vigilant when interacting with and living near Plaintiffs.”
Public reaction to the listing of the Colorado plaintiffs in the sex offender registry has not been irrational or unnecessarily punitive, Hunter argues.
“That a school has taken efforts to exclude from campus Plaintiff Knight — convicted of attempting to sexually assault a toddler — does not constitute cruelty or caprice, but rather is eminently reasonable given the sensitive location and the extremely high recidivism rates of child molesters,” the brief states.
Read all the recent editorials from The Oklahoman.
Hunter's brief ably proves there is a valid public safety reason for citizens to know who among them is a rapist or child predator. And those who rape 10-year-old children don't deserve sympathy simply because public awareness of their actions causes social discomfort.