Aleanna Siacon | Detroit Free Press Updated 2:13 p.m. EDT May 24, 2019
A U.S. district court judge is giving Michigan lawmakers 90 days to change the state's sex offender registry law, almost three years after it was first ruled unconstitutional by federal appeals court.
U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland issued an order that the law must be changed on Thursday.
The ruling stems from an August 2016 decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati which found that Michigan's Sex Offender Registry Act was unconstitutional.
Under Michigan's law:
- Offenders have been prohibited from living, working or even standing within 1,000 feet of a school.
- They must immediately register email address or vehicles, plus report to the police as often as four times a year.
- The rules currently apply to all offenders on the registry — even if they've gone decades without committing and crimes.
The appeals court found the law in violation of constitutional protections against increasing penalties for a crime after its commission and adjudication.
The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case — effectively upholding the 6th Circuit ruling.
But the state has kept the law in place. It argued that the rulings only applied to the specific plaintiffs who brought them — because the appeals court decision came in civil cases instead of class-action lawsuits.
In essence, whether or not offenders needed to completely comply with the act depended on if they'd been able to successfully plead for their individual case in court.
The ACLU, the University of Michigan Clinical Law Program and the Oliver Law Group filed a class-action lawsuit last June that asked that the appeals court to apply the ruling to all Michigan registrants.
“Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry is not just unconstitutional, but it’s also counterproductive and actually makes our communities less safe,” Miriam Aukerman, ACLU senior staff attorney, said in a statement.
“We need and deserve effective public-safety measures that protect our kids and families, rather than a bloated and ineffective registration scheme that in fact puts them at greater risk. Legislators should seize on this opportunity to protect the public by replacing Michigan’s failed registry with policies and programs that have proven successful in preventing sexual offending.”
In a news release, the ACLU of Michigan said research shows sexual violence and the harm it causes are effectively reduced by prevention programs.
“The Legislature now has both the opportunity and the obligation to use evidence-based research to get this right and provide truly effective tools that enable law enforcement to carry out their work," Shelli Weisberg, ACLU Political Director said in a statement.
Sen. Peter J. Lucido (R-Shelby Township), chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee told the Free Press discussions with the state police, as well as the ACLU of Michigan have been ongoing, and he sees this as an opportunity to take another look at whether or not SORA is doing the job it was intended to do.
"I think most of our laws need to be look at revised over time with changing of society and its values, I believe also that if you change the law, you still have public safety first and foremost at the front," Lucido said Friday.
He added that it's important to consider the facts and circumstances surrounding cases where registrants have continued to maintain "unblemished" records, but are still asked to report to law enforcement due to offenses from decades ago.
"I think the court's giving the legislature an opportunity of re-shaping the law and making it right for the taxpayers and individuals," he said.
Attorney General Dana Nessel echoed these sentiments in a statement shared with the Free Press Friday afternoon.
“For months now many individuals have been offering input into possible revisions to Michigan’s SORA. That valuable work is now on a timetable. In my view, these revisions are long overdue and will bring justice to many who have suffered significant burdens imposed by the obligations and requirements of this bloated registration scheme, which is out of touch with practical ramifications, with the needs of law enforcement, and with a more reasoned understanding of recidivism," Nessel said.
Contact Aleanna Siacon: ASiacon@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AleannaSiacon. Staff reporter Todd Spangler contributed.