First Two Cases of Sex Offender Internet Registries Heard By US Supreme Court

On November 13, 2002, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in two important cases involving constitutional challenges to sex offender Internet registry laws. These are the first cases involving constitutional challenges to Megan's Law that have been taken up by the Supreme Court. In the first case, Smith v. Do3, the Court heard argument on whether Alaska's sex offender registration and notification law, and the implementation of community notification through the Internet, imposes punishment in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. Smith, et al., No. 01-729. The attorney representing the named officials from the State of Alaska and the Solicitor General, arguing on behalf of the United States, argued the position that Alaska's Megan's Law is a remedial measure designed to protect the public, not to punish offenders, and therefore should not be considered punishment. The challengers countered by arguing that the posting of their criminal history and personal information on an Internet registry available to the general public, and the additional burdens of registration, constitute a form of punishment which violates the constitutional rights of those offenders who committed their crimes prior to the enactment of the law.
The second case, Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, involves a challenge to Connecticut's Megan's Law, which had been held unconstitutional on due process grounds. Connecticut Department of Public Safety, et al. v Doe, et al., No. 01-1231. Connecticut's law does not include any tiering or risk assessment to differentiate between offenders for purposes of Internet posting, but rather makes available on the Internet pertinent information about all individuals who have committed any of the sex offenses enumerated in the law. The Solicitor General and Attorney General of Connecticut argued that, because the registry involves only the posting of accurate, publicly available information such as sex offender criminal records, there is no need to have an individualized hearing on risk of re-offense before posting sex offender registry information on the Internet. The challengers countered with arguments that, although the Connecticut registry does not distinguish between convicted sex offenders based on dangerousness, the constitutional right to due process requires that these individuals must be afforded a hearing to determine whether they are currently dangerous prior to inclusion on the state's ex offender Internet registry. The Supreme Court's rulings in these cases in expected to establish needed precedent which should provide all states with clear guidance in operating and maintaining sex offender registry information available to the public over the Internet.

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