Is sex offender registration constitutional?
One of the most far-reaching penalties that comes with a sex crime conviction is registration as a sex offender. Being on the sex offender registry can significantly impact where you can live, what occupations you can pursue and other freedoms. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there are more than 44,000 Michigan residents currently on the registry, costing taxpayers $1 million-plus each year.
The ACLU, among other parties, has challenged Michigan’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) on the basis that it is not constitutional and provides no demonstrable benefit to public safety.
SORA Has Become Stricter Over Time
SORA established the Michigan sex offender registry in 1994, and has been revised frequently since. It was originally meant to serve as a confidential database for police. In fact, it was a crime to reveal sex offender registration. There were no regular reporting requirements.
The law was amended in 1999 and the registry became publicly accessible online, eventually with pictures of the offender. Requirements were added for those on the registry, and penalties for violating those requirements increased. Over time, the law has been amended to be more and more strict.
Challenging SORA’s Constitutionality
Following litigation challenging SORA’s constitutionality, the law was again amended in 2020. However, there has been confusion among law enforcement about how to enforce the amended law. That confusion was exacerbated by both the removal of elements from the previous iteration that may have been unconstitutional as well as temporary changes due to the pandemic.
According to an article from NPR Michigan, the court clarified that people on the sex offender registry should not be prosecuted for violating old SORA rules that were deemed unconstitutional, and that the new amendments to SORA cannot be prosecuted retroactively.
While the ACLU acknowledges that the clarification is beneficial, the organization still believes that SORA is ineffective and unconstitutional. Further action is possible.