Court: Much of Michigan sex offender registry not enforceable until fixed

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U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland focused on registry provisions that barred sex offenders from being near schools and forced them to meet complex reporting rules, ruling that the requirements were vague and otherwise violated offenders’ constitutional rights. (Shutterstock image)

Major portions of a Michigan sex offender registry are either too vague or violate the First Amendment rights of people on the list, rendering them unconstitutional, a federal court in Port Huron ruled Friday

The Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) requires people convicted of certain sex offenses to regularly report information such as their phone numbers, address, email addresses, instant messaging handles, website logins and more, and also bars them from working, living or loitering near a school — all of which can no longer be enforced against any registrant, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland ruled. 

For people whose offense occurred before those provisions were added to the law in 2011, the entire SORA is unenforceable. 

This isn’t the first time Michigan’s sex offender law has been struck down: Parts of it were declared unconstitutional in 2015, 2016 and 2019 as the Legislature was expected to modify the law to bring it into compliance. But the Legislature didn’t act, and the state continued to enforce the law as written.

“Faced with the continued violation of their rights, Plaintiffs returned to this court to remedy (the state’s) ongoing violations,” Cleland wrote. 

He said he believes the ruling will spur action to change the law, “but until such time as the legislature acts, SORA will be unenforceable against a large portion of registrants and may be enforced only in part against the remaining registrants.”

That means pressure on the Legislature and the governor: Until lawmakers can come up with a better system, the system will largely cease to exist. Cleland’s ruling will go into effect 60 days after the final judgment is submitted, “principally to allow time for the legislature to craft and enact a new statute,” he wrote. 

Until then, the ruling means the state cannot force convicted sex offenders on the registry to avoid school areas or provide updated contact information to the state, and those who committed sex offenses before 2011 will be taken off the registry entirely. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, “is very concerned about the impact of today’s ruling,” spokeswoman Amber McCann told Bridge via email. “The Senate will begin work on legislation to bring the registry into compliance in order to ensure public safety.”

Friday’s decision concludes two cases against the state challenging the registry. One case was brought by six Michigan residents who were retroactively required to register for life after the amendments to the law went into effect and argued they couldn’t be forced to comply with a new law punishing them for a crime they committed before the law existed. 

The other case, a class-action lawsuit, argued the law is unconstitutional for all registrants because it is too vague and violates the First Amendment

“Today’s decision is a win for the public safety of Michigan communities,” Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan which helped bring the class action suit, said in a statement Friday. 

“The registry is an ineffective and bloated system that makes Michigan communities less safe by making it more difficult for survivors to report abuse, sabotaging people’s efforts to re-enter society, and wasting scarce police resources on hyper-technicalities.”

There is a national version of SORA, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which has been ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and has more limited reporting requirements and exclusion zones than Michigan.

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Kevin Grand
Fri, 02/14/2020 - 8:07pm

"“Today’s decision is a win for the public safety of Michigan communities,” Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan which helped bring the class action suit, said in a statement Friday. "

The ACLU must be SO proud of themselves for making things safer for sexual predators to operate freely here in Michigan.

Sat, 02/15/2020 - 5:37pm

So ignorant your comment, you have no idea how fascist you are. You know nothing about it that's obvious

Kevin Grand
Mon, 02/17/2020 - 5:06am

I do know that when I've used the database, it was shocking the number of deviants who live close to where my family members reside.

Based upon your response, David, I can only surmise you also condone the actions of sexual predators or you're on the list.

Which is it?

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 9:17am

Does the list make you feel safer? How so? Does it bother you that convicted murderers, thieves, and other criminals who served time might be living/working next to you and you don't know it? Do you move every time someone on the list moves near your neighborhood or change jobs when one is employed near you? Do you memorize the photos? How much of your life is spent thinking about these things?

Kevin Grand
Mon, 02/17/2020 - 9:40am

Being forewarned is being forearmed.

Why shouldn't families with young children know that there is a predator living near to them?

Ditto for women.

Ditto for seniors.

Or does their safety not matter to you?

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:44pm

Kevin, Matt, and other the other libertarian goons here are the dregs of the state. Misanthropic ghouls to a man

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 5:52pm

Funny Bones! I've always believed the Sex predator list to be very problematic. Is there a personal reason for your sensitivity?

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 5:47pm

Or you could explain explain why Kevin is wrong rather than calling him names with no explanation of your reasoning?

middle of the mit
Sat, 02/15/2020 - 2:03am

I seriously flabbergasted that the ACLU had something to do with this. I wish there was more information on these cases that I could use to understand why they came to said conclusion.

And as for Kevin's response?

Dude? "I grab 'em by the pussy! When you're rich, they let you do it!"

That is the President of The United States recorded words.

If I had a daughter, I wouldn't let that man near her.

And if she got away from me, her contact with said man would end up in Non disclosure agreement!

Kevin Grand
Mon, 02/17/2020 - 5:10am

Hmmm, so does this vitriol also extent to the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Clinton?

I noticed that you've carefully left them out.

I cannot imagine why?

Sun, 02/16/2020 - 7:55am

2016 our law was unconstitutional Senate Majority Shirkey leader’s respons: do nothing.

2018 our law was unconstitutional Senate Majority Shirkey leader’s response: do nothing.

2019 our law was unconstitutional Senate Majority Shirkey leader’s response: do nothing.

2020 our law was unconstitutional Senate Majority Shirkey leader’s response: we’re going to get started right away.

Sounds just like the legislature’s road plan which is do nothing & propose nothing.

Sun, 02/16/2020 - 1:30pm

Is there a registry for violators of speed limits? Or one for parking violations? If a person has served their time, then they should be free no strings attached. If a person is deemed to still be a hazard to society, then why have they been released? You shouldn't be able to have it both ways.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 02/17/2020 - 5:19am

When you break the speed limit, there is no other party affected.

When you get a parking ticket, there is no other party affected.

When you're a sexual predator, there IS another party affected.

OABTW, regarding those first two examples...there is a database for those, you just don't know about it because it's not very widely reported, that's all.

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 10:05am

Considering the low recidivism rate for sex offenders compared to recidivism for other crimes, you have to wonder why all ex-cons aren't required to be on a registry. What's good for the goose should also be good for the gander.