Judge: Colorado registry violated 3 offenders' rights
DENVER (AP) -- Colorado violated the constitutional rights of three men by requiring them to register as sex offenders in the state, opening them up to "cruel and unusual punishment" by the public and restrictions on their ability to find work or homes long after completing prison or probation and parole sentences, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch said Thursday the Colorado registry exposes "the registrants to punishments inflicted not by the state but by their fellow citizens."
The ruling in the case of the three men who want to remove their information from the registry is the latest example of courts limiting states' efforts to track sex offenders. In July the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said changes in 2012 to that state's registry that expanded and toughened reporting rules under the state's Megan's Law can't be applied retroactively.
The Colorado ruling has no immediate effect, even for the three offenders named in the case, said their attorney Alison Ruttenberg. However she said the decision could have implications for Colorado and other states.
Ruttenberg said Colorado offenders can use Matsch's decision to ask state judges to remove them from the registry or to defend themselves against charges of failing to register. If the state appeals to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but fails to get the order overturned, the case also could be cited in other states, she said.
"These people had done everything society asked them to do," Ruttenberg said. "They served their sentence, stayed out of trouble and had done nothing else wrong but were being publicly vilified."
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement the ruling won't affect operation of the registry. She didn't immediately say whether her office will appeal the decision.
"While concerning, yesterday's ruling affects only three individuals and does not call into question the constitutionality of Colorado's sex offender registry as a whole, which continues to be lawfully maintained by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation," Coffman said. "I am committed to having a robust sex offender registry in our state that protects the public."
In Colorado, offenders' names, addresses, photos and other identifying features are posted on a state website, based on offenders' registrations with local law enforcement. The offenders' lawsuit argued that the information makes it difficult for offenders to find jobs and housing. Routine visits by police and flyers posted on doors clearly identify them as registered sex offenders, the suit said.
Matsch also blasted state judges who denied one offender's requests to be removed from the registry for "Kafka-esque" proceedings that asked the offender to prove that he would not commit another offense and then ruling against him on their "subjective opinions." The system continues to punish offenders for years after completing a court-ordered sentence, he said.
"The fear that pervades the public reaction to sex offenses_particularly as to children_generates reactions that are cruel and in disregard of any objective assessment of the individual's actual proclivity to commit new sex offenses," Match wrote. "The failure to make any individual assessment is a fundamental flaw in the system."