The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The heat is turned up (one hopes) against sex offender registry statutes

As I’ve noted a number of times here on the VC (most recently here) I’ve gotten involved over the last few years in a series of constitutional challenges to various State “sex offender registry” statutes, which typically impose a series of reporting requirements (e.g., tell your probation officer of every address change, or email address you use) and disabilities (on owning property near a school, say, or on using the Internet) on persons who have been convicted of certain sex-related crimes.

The laws have been part of a particularly nasty and ill-spirited movement across this country to pile punishment upon punishment to those convicted of a variety of sex crimes, and if you want to get a good sense of how nasty and ill-spirited (not to mention counter-productive and unconstitutional) they are you should take a look at Julie Bosman’s outstanding article (“Teenager’s Jailing Brings a Call to Fix Sex Offender Registries”) from this Sunday’s New York Times.  Nineteen-year old Jared Anderson met a girl online, and they later met and had sex; she turned out to have been 14-years-old girl (though she admits that she told him she was 17). Anderson was convicted of statutory rape, and served his time in prison.  His punishment, however, will continue for the rest of his life, because he will forever be labelled a “convicted sex offender” and crushing disabilities will be placed on him for the sole purpose, as far as I can tell, of grinding him down and destroying his spirit.  The Scarlet “A”, for the rest of his life. He can’t use the Internet; he has to tell potential employers that he is a sex offender; he can’t live near parks, schools, playgrounds, or churches. If the State of Indiana wanted to ensure that he never gets his life back together again after he has already served the sentence it imposed on him, it has done a very good job.

One hopes that Benson’s article will help to generate some momentum to curb these abusive statutes.  Front-page stories in the Times can still have that effect — we saw it with the movement against civil asset forfeiture, which was well-served by a Times expose (along with stories from The Washington Post and John Oliver), and it would be a good thing if the same happened here.  This is classic tyranny of the majority, and if the legislatures can’t act reasonably the courts should impose reasonableness upon them.