MICHIGAN -- Could the sex offender registry soon be a thing of the past? The American Civil Liberties Union wants to possibly get rid of it, saying the registry doesn't work. Right now, there are two cases out of Michigan, including a class action lawsuit, claiming several parts of the registry are unconstitutional.
“In August 2016, the federal court of appeals held that Michigan’s registry is unconstitutional.” Attorney for the ACLU in Michigan, Miriam Aukerman, said.
Aukerman represents hundreds of convicted sex offenders fighting the public registry and some of the sex offender restrictions imposed by the state. That suit is in response to the state of Michigan not coming into compliance with the Court of Appeals decision.
“Basically what the court of appeals said is that the registry is so ineffective, so broken, that it violates the constitution. What we know, through research, is that registries don’t work. They don’t keep people safe.”
The Michigan registry was initially created in 1994 as a database for law enforcement. Since then, there have been major changes. In 1999, the registry was posted on the internet. In 2004, pictures were added. In 2006, living and working restrictions were imposed, keeping offenders at least 100 feet from schools. In 2011, a tier system was implemented, which determines how long an offender is on the list, retroactively extending registration for some offenders, for life, in some cases. In 2013, the state imposed an annual fee for people on the registry.
People who were convicted prior to registry amendments were impacted by each change. The court determined the state couldn't retroactively punish offenders. And, found some blanket restrictions, like prohibiting people to live within 1000 feet of a school, are unconstitutional if there isn't an individual threat assessment of the offender to show the restrictions are necessary.
“The problem is the legislature hasn’t come into compliance with that court decision.” Aukerman said.
Aukerman believes the best solution is an overhaul of the system and a dismantling of the public database.
“Registries are counter-productive. They take people and push them to the margins of society. They take away the very things that we know make people successful, which are family support, housing and employment.” She said.
“It gives them a map. It’s got the pinpoints. This is where the sex offenders are residing and I can tell you, it’s of great solace for a mother with kids who wants to know what her neighborhood is about.” Cass County Prosecutor, Victor Fitz, said.
Fitz says he agrees that some people on the registry may not deserve to be there and thinks it's reasonable for the courts to look at individual assessments. But, overall, he believes the database is key to public safety.
“This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater 100 times over in my opinion.” Fitz said.
And, without the registry, he believes prison sentences for sex offenders could be drastically extended.
“The courts know the registry protects people in the community. If you take that away, judges may look at it with a very different light. So, be careful what you ask for.” He said.
The state has just a little more than a week to respond to the ACLU lawsuit. The ACLU hopes the end result is state lawmakers passing new sex offender legislation.