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Michigan’s sex offender registry needs reform, U.S. Supreme Court decides

Oct 3, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term yesterday, and one of its first actions has direct repercussions in Michigan.

The court decided it would not take up the state of Michigan’s appeal of a unanimous decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Thirteen months ago, the Sixth Circuit found the state was treating people as “moral lepers” with its sex offender registry.

“[The court] decided, on the basis of this case brought by six individuals, that indeed the law can’t be applied to them because it violates the ex post facto restriction of the constitution,” said J.J. Prescott, a University of Michigan law professor and expert on sex offender laws.

That means the decision essentially said the state can't apply the sex offender registry laws to people retroactively, which it has been doing.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up the state’s appeal of this decision, “for all intents and purposes, the decision is final,” Prescott said.

The upshot? Michigan likely has to go back to the drawing board and change the registry.

When it was originally being crafted, the argument for the sex offender registry law was that it'd make everybody safe. But Prescott said that's not actually the case.

“What we forget is actually in many ways, these laws operate as anti-reentry laws,” he said. “In other words, they make life so difficult, even for those who never would have committed a crime again, that it’s actually not all that different from being in prison. And if you think about how somebody who is homeless or can’t find a job or can’t see or interact with their family very often because of all of these restrictions, turns out that a number of them start to wonder, you know, what’s in it for them? Why should they continue trying hard to integrate into society given how difficult it is for them to be on the outside?”

Listen above for the full conversation.

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