Supreme Court hears arguments on sex offender cases

Posted 7:33p.m. Nov. 18

by Marcus Mrowka
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Wednesday for two cases that will determine to what extent states can go in publishing information about sex offenders to the public.

The cases involve sex offender registries in Connecticut and Alaska which were created as part Megan’s Law. Named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka who was raped and killed in 1994 by a convicted sex offender in her neighborhood in New Jersey, the law was set up to let the public know of convicted sex offenders living around them. Every state in the union and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of sex offender registry as part of Megan’s Law.

The Alaska case seeks to decide if it is unconstitutional to punish sex offenders twice for the same crime by putting them in jail and then by putting their picture on the internet for the public to see. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that registration of sex offenders amounts to additional punishment.

Darryl L. Thompson, a lawyer from Anchorage, Alaska argued the state improperly requires sex offenders to register if they convicted of a sexual crime up to ten years before the Megan’s Law registry was enacted. Two lower courts split on the constitutionality of the Alaska law but often the retroactive application of laws is said to be unconstitutional.

According to the Hartford Courant, Justice Antonin Scalia saw nothing wrong in the Alaska law. “What is irrational or unconstitutional about warning people about categories of people who may be dangerous?” he asked.

Scalia said some people might not want to live next door to someone with a sex conviction even if a psychiatrist says they’re rehabilitated according to the Associated Press.

The Connecticut case, which was also heard on Wednesday, seeks to determine if individual states should give convicted sex offenders a chance to prove they are no longer dangerous to avoid being posted on the internet. The Connecticut registry labeled all sex offenders on the site “currently dangerous”.

Connecticut’s Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, presented the case for the state arguing that convicted sex offenders do not have a constitutional right to a hearing before their names are posted on the state’s registry. He argued that the hearings would delay making vital information available to the public.

Two lower federal courts have disagreed with Blumenthal saying that without hearings, sex offenders are being deprived of due process under the law. The Connecticut state registry has been taken offline as a result of the lower rulings but is still available to police.

According to the Associated Press, Blumenthal said, “The justices seemed genuinely interested and impressed by the powerful public interest and legal merit of our law. They focused very directly and immediately on the public interest and the fact that all of these sex offenders had been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Shelley Sadin, the lawyer for an anonymous offender in the Connecticut case, said it would not be difficult for Connecticut to hold the hearings with sex crime experts.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said she was having trouble figuring out Sadin’s argument which could hurt the power of her case. “I’m not sure what it is,” O’Connor said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on both cases is expected in the spring or summer of 2003.

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