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Criminal Appellate & Post-Conviction Services

Sex Offender Registry

Nebraska Federal Court Strikes Down Ban on Sex Offender on Social Media

The Volokh Conspiracy blog’s David Post has a nice post on a decision of a Federal Court’s decision to strike down a Nebraska law banning sex offenders from using social media services such as Facebook. The ruling can be accessed here. Counsel’s brief can be found here.

Michigan Supreme Court Vacated In re TD - DiPiazza Lives

In People v DiPiazza, 286 Mich App 137, 778 NW2d 264 (2009), the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Michigan's sex offender registration can be unconstitutional as applied to certain individuals. Mr. DiPiazza was involved in the classic "Romeo and Juliet" relationship with his fifteen year old girl friend. He was given a Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (“HYTA”) by a Muskegon County judge. This meant that he did not have a criminal conviction. Notwithstanding the HYTA, he was placed on the sex offender registry. He later married his girl friend and they had children together. Because of his being listed on the sex offender registry, the Defendant became virtually unemployable. A Grand Rapids panel of the Court of Appeals found that SORA was cruel and unusual as applied.

In re TD, the Court of Appeals refused to apply the ruling to juveniles. These Defendants were convicted in the Family Division of the Washtenaw County Circuit Court of second degree criminal sexual conduct. Shortly before the Defendant turned eighteen, he petitioned for relief from the sex offender registry. The Washtenaw judge found that the Defendant did not meet the statutory criteria for removal, but found that DiPiazza made the registry unconstitutional punishment. The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office appealed to this ruling to the Lansing Division of the Michigan Court of Appeals. That panel reversed the trial court’s ruling. They distinguished and somewhat criticized the DiPiazza ruling.

Because of a statutory change, the former juveniles in In re TD, however, were relieved from their registration obligations. Taking the case over at the Michigan Supreme Court level, the University of Michigan Juvenile Law Clinic successfully convinced the Michigan Supreme Court to set aside the Court of Appeals ruling.
Click here to see their order. This has created as a "reset" and returned the law to a pre-In re TD state. Congratulations to my friend Professor Kim Thomas of the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor on a job well done!

10th Circuit Strikes Down NM Ban on Sex Offenders Using Public Library

In an unfortunate defense loss, the Michigan Court of Appeals just ruled that the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Padilla v Kentucky is not retroactive. Padilla held that a defense attorney was ineffective when he gave his client incorrect information about the deportation consequences of the plea. Padilla, however, also held that even if the attorney gave no advice, he would still be ineffective. In a case called People v Davidovich, the Michigan Supreme Court had reached a contrary ruling some ten years early. In People v Gomez, the Court of Appeals ruled in a publish decision that Padilla was not retroactive. As the Court correctly noted, right now the US Federal Appellate Courts are bitterly divided. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in a divided ruling that Padilla is not retroactive. Conversely, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reached the opposite holding. The Seventh Circuit decision is currently being appealed to the US Supreme Court and the case may prove appealing to the high court. It is being advocated by a very good appellate advocate and has a number of organizations backing the petition.

In Michigan, Mr. Gomez’s attorney (Liisa Speaker of Lansing Michigan) has indicated that she will appeal the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court. You can monitor the case developments here. To track developments on the basic law, you can click here to see cases citing to the Third Circuit’s decision. Sooner or later the US Supreme Court will have to decide this issue.

Sex Offenders: The Last Pariah's

The blog Congress, Courts, and Sex Offenders has an interesting editorial making the case that society’s current obsession with sex offenders is misplaced and that they have become the last pariahs. The series of ill thought out laws have actually done more harm than good and is based on a misconception of who the typical perpetrator is. What do you think?

CNN Questions Adam Walsh Act

An interesting story on today’s CNN.Com questions our current sex offender registry policy. CNN regards the Adam Walsh act as creating information overload which deemphasizes the core group of offenders which people should be watching. The article suggest that the biggest mistake the law made was to force states to do away with risk based assessments. The article focuses on the problems developing in Ohio and refers to it as ground zero.

Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down Their Adam Walsh Act

Yesterday, a highly talented group of lawyers managed to get the Ohio Supreme Court to declare its Adam Walsh Act unconstitutional. State v Williams, 2011 Ohio 3374. This group includes some unlikely friends. Several rape crisis centers filed a Friend of the Court brief supporting the Defendant. Both the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault filed a brief supporting the Defendant. They noted that the Adam Walsh Law was a law spread by fear and did not help any valid public purpose. Their brief is a wealth of information about why these laws don’t work and people need to read it. Less surprisingly, the Ohio ACLU Fund filed a friend of the court brief arguing the matter under ex post facto principles.

While I have focused on the amicus, the
Office of the Ohio Public Defender also filed an excellent brief arguing why an offense driven classification scheme is punitive. The OOPD argued that the more rigid the classification system is, the more punitive it is. The Williams Court agreed. While Ohio Courts have upheld predecessor laws, the Court found that the new law passed the boundaries in becoming punitive.

The Court, however, based its decision on a provision contained in the Ohio Constitution (Ohio Const Art II, Sec. 28) which bars the passage of retroactive laws.

That provision provides:

“The general assembly shall have no power to pass retroactive laws, or laws impairing the obligation of contracts; but may, by general laws, authorize courts to carry into effect, upon such terms as shall be just and equitable, the manifest intention of parties, and officers, by curing omissions, defects, and errors, in instruments and proceedings, arising out of their want of conformity with the laws of this state.”

The Court noted that the new law extended the duration of registration obligations, imposed a duty on an individual to register with multiple law enforcement agencies, and removed the ability to judicially challenge registration obligations. Because the Ohio Supreme Court based the ruling on the Ohio Constitution, there should be no further appeals in this matter.

After reading the ruling, I pulled down a copy of Michigan Compiled Laws and started thumbing through Section IV of the Michigan Constitution trying to find a similar provision. Section IV is our counterpart of Ohio Constitution Article II – it deals with limitations on legislative powers. I couldn’t find anything. I also couldn’t find anything in Michigan Constitution’s Article III dealing with the general operations of government. Section I of our Constitution contains a general ex post facto (“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law or law impairing the obligation of contract shall be enacted”) which might provide the basis for a similar challenge.

The ex post facto limitation has been applied fairly similarly in Michigan. There are also due process cases which contain some language supporting a challenge. In
Metro Homes v City of Warren the Court stated that retroactive legislation, which impairs vested rights is a due process violation. In 1992, the Michigan Court of Appeals reaffirmed this principle in Tax Payers United v Detroit. Like ex post facto challenges, the argument will boil down to whether the new law is punitive. In 1988, the Michigan Supreme Court stated in Romein v General Motors: "A remedial or procedural statute may operate retrospectively if it does not `take away vested rights.'" Cases interpreting Michigan’s old SORA law were as clear as mud on this point. The cases whether registration consequences were punitive or remedial were inconsistent. Believe it or not, this actually puts us ahead of Ohio which had uniformly upheld their old law. Notwithstanding this, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the increased reporting requirements, the broad public dissemination of large quantities of otherwise private information, and the expanded restrictions on former offenders pushed the law into the punitive category.

While we have a very conservative Court in Michigan, the Ohio decision gives me hope.

Convicted Sex Offender Challenges Lifetime Ban on Social Media Sites

Today’s Sex Offender Research Blog has an interesting story about a North Carolina Sex Offender who is challenging a lifetime ban on accessing Facebook, Myspace, and other social media sites. In addition to banning sex offenders from going to schools and other places where children congregate. North Carolina law bans sex offenders from joining or using social media sites that also admit children. Last year, the attorney representing the challengers succeeded in striking down a North Carolina law which created a 300 foot buffer between sex offenders and places where children congregated. As applied, this law stopped sex offenders from going to church.

Michigan Defendant Must Be Told About the Sex Offender Registration Consequences

In a surprise defense victory, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled (2-1) that a criminal defendant can have his guilty plea vacated because he was not adequately informed of the sex offender registration (SORA) consequences of his plea. People v Fonville, Court of Appeals No. 294544. The key holding is that the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Padilla v Kentucky applies to sex offender registry consequences. A defendant who pleads guilty without being warned about those consequences may withdraw his plea.

In Padilla, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a non-citizen criminal defendant must be informed of any deportation consequences as part of the plea. In adopting this approach, the United States Supreme Court rejected the approach used by many courts that said that “collateral consequences” (no matter how important) do not have to be conveyed to a criminal defendant. The comparisons to deportation are obvious. Like deportation, sex offender registration is not a criminal sanction, but is a extremely severe penalty. In addition to the typical stigma that convicted criminals are subject to upon release from imprisonment, sexual offenders are subject to unique ramifications, including, for example, residency reporting requirement and place of domicile restrictions. Moreover, sex offender registration is “intimately related to the criminal process.” The “automatic result” of sex offender registration for certain defendants makes it difficult “to divorce the penalty from the conviction.” For these reasons, the Court rejected the notion that the SORA consequences were not part of the criminal conviction.

The secondary important part of the ruling (which isn’t as good) implies that the Court’s prior ruling in People v DiPiazza, 286 Mich App 137, 778 NW2d 264 (2009) may only apply to individuals who do not have a criminal record, but are still on the sex offender registry.

Will the Michigan Legislature Reform Our SORA

Yesterday, Professor Berman noted that there seems to be some movement towards reforming Michigan’s sex offender registration law. Read More...

Delaware Supreme Court Rules that a Pardon Removes SORA Registry Obligations

Reversing the decision of the lower court, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that an individual’s rehabilative pardon was grounds for removal from the state court sex offender registry. Heath v State, Delaware Supreme Court No. 2008-550

Kentucky AG Seeks Temporary Enforcement of Its Jessica's Law Pending State's Cert Petition to SCOTUS

In October, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that a state law prohibiting sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds, and day care centers could not be applied retroactively, to those convicted before the enactment of the law. On Monday, the Court rejected a request to stay the ruling. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway asked that the ruling be stayed, but that request was rejected in a brief order from the Kentucky Supreme Court on Monday. The Attorney General’s spokesperson (Allison Martin) stated that he will renew his request with the high court.
The 2006 law subjected all convicted sex offenders to residency restrictions, while a prior law applied restrictions to offenders who were on probation or parole. It also increased the minimum distance that offenders must live from schools and day care centers, and added playgrounds to the list. The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office has appealed the ruling to the United States Supreme Court and has sought a stay of the Kentucky ruling pending their certiorari petition. Click here for the ky baker ruling

California Supreme Court to Review Jessica's Law

California (like many states) passed its own variant of Jessica’s Law which prohibited convicted sex offenders from living close to parks, schools, and other places which people believe children are likely to congregate. California granted an exception to the law to people who already lived near such places, but any subsequent arrest for any offense required the offender to move. J.S. was convicted of sexually assaulting a fifteen year when he was sixteen. For years J.S. continued to live with his mother. Then he received a ticket for driving the wrong way down a street, which was technically a misdemeanor under California law. This required him to move from the home he was living in for years. Jessica’s law is being challenged on constitutional grounds. Some former supporters of the law have changed their position because the law has made sex offenders homeless, more transient, and therefore potentially more dangerous. Earlier this year, California's Sex Offender Management Board, which includes many law enforcement officials, urged changes in Jessica's Law and found that the residency restrictions were counterproductive, particularly because of a surge in offenders declaring themselves transients, making it even harder to track their whereabouts To read the Silicon Valley (formerly San Jose) Mercury News story on this case, click here. To read the Contra Costa Times summary of the case, click here.

Michigan's SORA Declared Unconstitutional As Applied to Youthful "Romeo"

Individuals convicted of sex offenses in Michigan lives a subhuman life even after they are off parole. Michigan’s sex offender registry forces individuals to register for twenty-five years for most offenses and this registration might as well be the kiss of death. Generally, the Courts have been unsympathetic. In People v DePiazza, Court of Appeals No. 284946, the Court of Appeals finally struck down one application of Michigan’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA).

Robert DiPiazza was convicted at the age of eighteen for consensual sex with his then fifteen year old girl friend. (A “Romeo and Juliet” offense). There was no dispute that the act was consensual, the couple subsequently married and are expecting their first child. At the request of the victim’s family, Mr. DiPiazza was given diversion under the Holmes Youthful Trainee act for the reduced offense of attempted third-degree criminal sexual conduct and sentenced to probation. In 2005, he completed the probation and the charges were dismissed.

Despite this, Mr. DiPiazza has been forced to register on the sex offender registry and could not hold a job because he was a “registered sex offender.” A unanimous panel fo the Michigan Court of Appeals found that the law was cruel or unusual punishment as applied.

Congratulations to Miriam Auckerman of Legal Aid of Western Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, and the many other civil rights groups who won this very difficult victory!

British Sex Offenders Win Human Rights Claim

COA Says that Beastiality is Not a "Sex Offense" for SORA

Nevada Federal District Court Declares Adam Walsh Act Unconstitutional

As was noted by the by a Las Vegas New Channel, US District Judge Mahan has declared unconstitutional Nevada’s Adam Walsh Act. In order to gain federal grant funding, Nevada modified its registration laws to require numerous individuals previously thought not to be a risk of reoffending to register. Last Friday, a Federal District Judge found this law violated due process.
President Bush signed the federal Adam Walsh Act in 2006 to expand the National Sex Offender Registry and to create national standards for ranking sex offenders. Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 109-248, 120 Stat. 587 (2006). The law established three tiers, rankings based on the crime the offender committed.
Section 111 of the Adam Walsh Act specifically sets out expanded definitions that include registration and notification which were considerably broader than the versions previously used in Nevada. Under this section, a sex offender is “an individual who was convicted of a sex offense.” A sex offense is a criminal offense that has an “element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another.”
The new provisions physically resemble the three tier system previously used in Nevada, but the federal law is considerably more exapnsive. A tier three sex offender is punishable by more than one year in prison. The individual must have attempted, conspired, or actually committed a sexual abuse or aggravated sexual abuse, an abusive sexual contact against a minor who has not attained the age of thirteen years, or a more severe offense. A tier three offense may also be committed if the offense involves kidnapping of a minor that is not one's own child or if the offense occurs after the offender is a tier two sex offender.
Second tier sex offenders are those who do not fit into tier three, but may still be punishable by more than one year in prison. Tier two includes offenses against a minor, or conspiracy to commit such offenses against a minor, such as: (1) sex trafficking; (2) coercion and enticement; (3) transportation with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and (4) abusive sexual conduct. A tier two offense may also involve: (1) use of a minor in a sexual performance; (2) solicitation of a minor to practice prostitution; or (3) production or distribution of child pornography. [FN72] An offense can also qualify as a tier two if any of these offenses occur after the offender is already a tier one offender. The first tier includes any sex offender who does not squarely fit into categories two or three. Tier one offenders are considered at low risk to reoffend and are not seen as dangerous.
The expansion of the sex offense definition includes any “[1] criminal offense that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another; [and 2] a criminal offense that is a specified offense against a minor ....” An offense that is consensual is not a sex offense unless the adult victim is under the custodial care of the offender, the victim is not an adult and the offender is more than four years older than the victim, or the victim is under the age of thirteen.
A juvenile is considered to be “convicted” of a sex offense when the juvenile “is 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense and the offense adjudicated was comparable to or more severe than aggravated sexual abuse ... or was an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense.”
Nevada used a scheme that required only the most dangerous offenders to appear on the public registry. Under the old law, you could only see offenders ranked two or three. After Adam Walsh, virtually all offenders were on the public registry. The Court found that this retrospective change in the law violated due process.

COA Defines SORA's Catch-All Registration Requirements

Michigan’s Sex Offender Registration Act (“SORA”) requires an individual “who is convicted of a listed offense after October 1, 1995, to register as a sex offender.” MCL 28.723(1)(a). The definition of “listed offense” in MCL 28.722(e) includes a catchall provision, MCL 28.722(e)(xi), which states that “[a]ny other violation of a law of this state or a local ordinance of a municipality that by its nature constitutes a sexual offense against an individual who is less than 18 years of age,” constitutes a listed

Last week, in People v Atlhoff, the Michigan Court of Appeals had the opportunity to clarify what the registration obligations were under this provision. Mr. Althoff had been convicted of downloading child pornography from the internet. The question was whether this act constituted a “sexual offense against an individual who is less than 18 years of age” under the Act.

Previously, in People v Meyers, 250 Mich App 637, 649 NW2d 123 (2002), the Court stated that in catch-all cases, a Court was required to look at the specific facts of a given case to determine whether the Defendant’s conduct fell within the catch-all. In December of 2006, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded Althoff to the Court of Appeals as on leave granted. In its remand order, the Michigan Supreme Court stated in dicta that the language in Meyers was dicta. People v Althoff, 477 Mich 961 (2006). In People v Golba, the Court of Appeals stated that this language was holding. In Altholff, the Court of Appeals found that Golba was wrongly decided because it ignored the remand order in Althoff. In other words, the Court of Appeals created a “wrongly decided” exception to Michigan’s “first out rule.” Because the prior panel failed to detect or credit a suggestion that Meyers was dicta, the decision was invalid. Even though Michigan’s court rules require to follow a post-1990 published Court of Appeals decision, Atlhoff chose not to. In the process, the Court has inadvertently created an exception which will swallow the rule. The authors of this decision will regret their words.

Megan's Lists Expand to Drug Offenders in TN & KS

According to the Tennessean, Tennessee and Kansas have created sex offender style registries for persons convicted of possessing methamphetamine. When will the craziness stop? There is no showing that these registries stop recidivism and there is strong evidence of exactly the opposite -- they directly impede a person’s ability to resume a normal life.