In the past week, there were two notable developments regarding the constitutionality of state sex offender registration schemes.
First, as noted by Douglas A. Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed highly significant amicus briefs in two Michigan Supreme Court cases, “arguing that Michigan’s sex offender registration and notification requirements are punishment because they are so burdensome and fail to distinguish between dangerous offenders and those who are not a threat to the community.” Both of the Michigan cases involve constitutional challenges under the Ex Post Facto Clause to the retroactive application of the state registration requirement. Michigan v Snyder, No. 153696; People v. Betts, No. 148981.
In the second development, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins of the Middle District of Alabama on Monday held that Alabama’s sex offender registration law (“ASORCNA”) violates the First Amendment by branding state-issued ID cards with “CRIMINAL SEX OFFENDER” and imposing extensive internet-use reporting requirements. Doe v. Marshall, No. 2:15-CV-606-WKW (M.D. Ala. Feb. 11, 2019). This case presents an interesting twist on the now-vulnerable theory espoused by the U.S. Supreme Court and many states that sex offender registration is not “punishment.”
These two caselaw developments are discussed further below.