Court Upholds DC Sex Offender Registry - Criminal Law - DC Circuit
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Court Upholds DC Sex Offender Registry

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a challenge to the DC Sex Offender Registry on Tuesday.

In its decision, the court concluded that the registry was not created as a punitive measure, thus mandatory registration for sex offenders convicted before the registry's enactment was not an ex post facto punishment.

Appellant Grant Anderson was convicted in 1988 of assault with intent to commit rape while armed, among other crimes, and was sentenced to prison for 18 years to life. In 2000, while Anderson was serving his prison sentence, the District of Columbia Council passed the Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA), a registration and notification law similar to those enacted in each of the fifty states.

SORA requires District residents convicted of certain crimes to register as sex offenders with the DC Sex Offender Registry. SORA also requires the Metropolitan Police to maintain a public internet database that provides information about sex offender registrants, and permits the police to notify the public about registrants through "community meetings, flyers, telephone calls, door-to-door contacts, electronic notification, direct mailings, and media releases."

Anderson's offense of assault with intent to commit rape is a lifetime registration offense, meaning he must register as a sex offender with the DC Sex Offender Registry so long as he lives in the District, and he must also register with the authorities in any other state where he relocates, works, or goes to school.

After his release in 2009, Anderson sued the United States and the District of Columbia, contending that SORA violates the Ex Post Facto Clause, the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the D.C. Human Rights Act.

In addition to rejecting the ex post facto argument, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that SORA's police notification requirements were not excessive with respect to SORA's civil and nonpunitive purpose.

In the opinion, Judge Thomas Griffith wrote, "Although we do not doubt that active notification makes SORA more burdensome to sex offenders than the passive notification scheme in Smith, '[t]he excessiveness inquiry of our ex post facto jurisprudence is not an exercise in determining whether the legislature has made the best choice possible to address the problem it seeks to remedy.' Rather, we ask 'whether the regulatory means chosen are reasonable in light of the nonpunitive objective.'"

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