Sex Offender Registry

For Sex Offenders, Registration Is Punishment

A federal judge rules that Colorado's online database violates the Eighth Amendment.


The three men who challenged Colorado's Sex Offender Registration Act were sentenced to probation. Two of them also served 90 days in jail. Their real punishment began later, when they found that appearing in the state's online registry of sex offenders made it impossible to lead a normal life.

Last week a federal judge recognized what anyone dealing with the burdens, obstacles, and dangers of life on the registry knows: Its punitive impact far outweighs any value it might have in protecting the public. In fact, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch concluded, registration can violate the Eighth Amendment by imposing what amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

On the face of it, that judgment contradicts the 2003 decision in which the Supreme Court described Alaska's Sex Offender Registration Act as a "civil regulatory scheme" that only incidentally resulted in humiliation and ostracism. Since Alaska's statute was not punitive, the Court reasoned, it could be applied retroactively without violating the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws.

Matsch argues that "the justices did not foresee the ubiquitous influence of social media," the proliferation of commercial websites peddling information from sex offender registries, or the cheap scare stories that local news outlets would produce based on that information. Those developments have magnified the life-disrupting potential of registration, as illustrated by the experiences of the plaintiffs in this case.

David Millard, who pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault on a minor in 1999, has been employed by the Albertsons grocery chain since 2003. His job was jeopardized after a customer saw his name and photo on a sex offender website.

Millard was forced to move repeatedly after his status as a registered sex offender was revealed, once by police and once by a local TV station. The second time, he had to fill out about 200 rental applications before finding an apartment he could rent.

Millard later bought a house in Denver, which is periodically visited by police officers seeking to verify his address. "If he is not home when they visit," Matsch notes, "they leave prominent, brightly colored 'registered sex offender' tags on his front door notifying him that he must contact the DPD."

As you might imagine, this public shaming makes things more than a little awkward with the neighbors. Millard has experienced name calling and vandalism, and he worries that worse may be coming. "Because of the fear and anxiety about his safety in public," Matsch writes, "Mr. Millard does little more than go to work, isolating himself at his home."

Eugene Knight was convicted of attempted sexual assault on a child in 2006 based on a crime he committed when he was 18. A "full-time father" because he has been unable to find work that pays well enough to cover the cost of child care, Knight is not allowed on school grounds to drop off his kids or attend school events.

Arturo Vega, who pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual assault as a juvenile but is listed in Colorado's public database because he failed to comply with registration requirements he did not understand, has tried twice to get off the registry. Both times his petitions were rejected by magistrates who insisted he prove a negative: that he was not likely to commit another sexual offense.

These men completed their sentences and have stayed out of trouble for years—almost two decades in Millard's case. But because of the registry, Matsch notes, they face "a known, real, and serious threat of retaliation, violence, ostracism, shaming, and other unfair and irrational treatment from the public…regardless of any threat to public safety based on an objective determination of their specific offenses, circumstances, and personal attributes."

By forcing sex offenders into this precarious situation, Matsch says, the state is punishing them. State or federal courts have reached the same conclusion in Alaska, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Maybe someday the Supreme Court will stop pretending otherwise.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Last week a federal judge recognized what anyone dealing with the burdens, obstacles, and dangers of life on the registry knows: Its punitive impact far outweighs any value it might have in protecting the public

    A judge’s job is to apply the law, not measure it’s costs and benefits.

    As Reason continues their descent into Progressitarianism, they predictably are more and more in favor of lawless authoritarianism from judges and the executive.

    1. Not exactly. As part of the judicial branch, a judge isn’t supposed to legislate, but is supposed to interpret the law. It’s the executive branch that is supposed to apply laws.

      As for these registries, if you were a regular reader, you’d know they’ve largely become a joke. They were conceived as punishment for rapists and child molesters. Now you have 17-year-olds with 16-year-old girlfriends being put on their for life. You have guys who pass out drunk and wake up to find some girl sucking him “guilty” of assault, and you even have a teens who took nude selfies of themselves ALONE being charged with manufacturing child porn. Do you seriously think such cases merit a lifetime on these lists?

    2. “A judge’s job is to apply the law, not measure it’s costs and benefits.”

      I’m not so sure about this statement.

    3. This is facially not true. A constitutional duty of the federal Judicial Branch is to keep legislatures from infringing on constitutional rights. If they deem a law to amount to cruel and unusual punishment, it is unconstitutional. His authority isn’t binding the way it would be from SCOTUS or a higher court of appeal, but the decision is within his powers.

    4. And what does he do when that law conflicts with another law? What if one of them is the Supreme Law of the Land? Contact his counterpart in a parallel universe and draw straws to see who applies each?

    5. So, it is “authoritarian” for a judge to safeguard the Constitutional rights of the individual when it is those laws, themselves, which are authoritarian?

      Also, you seem to be confusing “progressitarianism” with actual “libertarianism.”

      Good try but there are many of us who adhere to libertarian principles despite the best efforts of conservatives to steal the mantle of libertarianism from real libertarians and to re-cast themselves as “libertarians.”

      That is currently the worst thing which libertarianism faces today: conservatives calling themselves libertarians.

  2. This is a good example of the appropriate use of checks and balances in the government. No branch is perfect, but working together they can keep each other in line. A ‘sex offender registry’ sounds like a good idea but only ends up creating more crime and prevents these people from becoming contributing members of society – thus it is a punishment on all of society. We can be pretty stupid haha.

    1. This is one branch against itself. The Supreme Court already ruled on this idea, but this lower court has taken it upon itself to decide that the higher court is not infallible and can actually be shortsighted.

      We talk about how America’s institutions are under attack, and here we see it’s true even from within. Sacred laws like PPACA and the Budget Control Act of 2011 and landmark rulings like Dred Scott and Bowers v. Hardwick are suddenly on the chopping block. When stare decisis goes, how can ordinary Americans reliably live their lives by government dictate?

      1. The Supreme Court is not – thank God! – the final world on anything; it’s rulings can be overturned by legislation, by well reasoned legal argument, or by social change. Ot we would still be living with Dread Scott. Frankly, even if I was a lot more trusting of government registries than I am, I would think the judge in this has reasoned well. The Supreme Court may later rule that, even stopping to reconsider the pervasive effect of social media, the registries stand. Though I hope they don’t.

        Sex Offender Registries are a cowards’ way of branding criminals. If we want to ostracize sex offenders for life we should at least have the guts to hold the branding iron ourselves, and smell the burning flesh.

        1. I think you are misreading Fist’s tongue inserted firmly in his cheek.

          Anyway, one of the difficulties here is the notion of oversight in trade for shorter sentences, aka supervised release. While the duration is questionable, Colorado does have a means to petition for removal off of the registry. In fact, it could be argued that these people haven’t re-offended precisely due to the registry, which is rehabilitative in scope.

          Not that I am for or against such registries per se, but the other side will most likely be even longer sentences for sex offenders (with the requisite risks to life and limb as they are generally violently despised by other prisoners).

          I think a stronger argument can be made as to why sex crimes are treated so differently from other crimes in the first place (that cuts to the heart of the civil regulatory argument). Certainly The Scarlet Letter is still read in high school?

          Also, as the libertarian mantra tends towards restitution; how much is it worth to sexually violate a child? I could see some high rolling pedophiles doing a cost benefit analysis against their next trip to Thailand.

          1. Pretty sure the Scarlet Letter isn’t still read in High School. At least, not what I could see from my kid’s syllabus – Romeo & Juliet is the only thing they’re reading that was written by a dead white guy.

            1. And had he lived, Romeo would most likely have found himself on a registry

              1. I may have to point that out to the kid. He’s just contrarian enough to raise that issue in class and run with it.

          2. > In fact, it could be argued that these people haven’t re-offended precisely due to the registry, which is rehabilitative in scope.

            Yes, it COULD be argued, but only an idiot or some other brand of progressive/collectivist would be persuaded. The public statements of the politicians supporting these draconian measures belie this naive explanation. They sell the public that they are going to punish “sex offenders”, but when it gets to court suddenly it’s “rehabilitative” or strictly “administrative” and therefore civil.

            1. Ooops. I forgot. All studies show no – ZERO – correlation with recidivism rates and the registries. A large majorities of sex offenders are close family members/friends, and they show extremely low recidivism rates. (In fact, sex offenders show the lowest recidivism rates of any crime except for 3 – guess which 3.) The type of sex offender that skew everything is the same-sex pedophile that offends against strangers. They are extremely highly likely to re-offend.

              1. You mean like Tony?

              2. You are slightly off-track with your comments about which offender is most likely to re-offend. It is still NOT stranger danger, but those male pedophiles who molest non-familial little boys. These offenders are NOT strangers, they’re just NOT related to the offender who molested them.

                It’s those offenders who target little boys who have the highest risk of re-offending. The risk is still in the 3-5% range. It’s just that those specific offenders make up the greater part of that 3 to 5% who do re-offend.

          3. Yeah, you’re too clever by half but clearly you haven’t been in the legal trenches looking at the reality of who are offenders and how they are treated.

      2. Well, it can be argued that the Supreme Court DID NOT rule on registries as they exist today. Clearly, from my point of view, they were wrong on Smith v. Doe when they ruled that registries were not punishment. Nevertheless, they outlined the sort of characteristics which WOULD be unconstitutional at that time and, very obviously, registries today fit those definitions of unconstitutionality.

        Justice Anthony Kennedy appears to be genuinely remorseful for his opinion in Smith v. Doe which has led to the terrible, nationwide, travesty of justice today.

        1. Two sources guided SCOTUS’ ruling in McKune v. Lile:

          (1) An article out of a LAYPERSON’s psychology magazine “Psychology Today”. It was either the March or May 1986 issue that featured an article by a sex offender treatment provider who was looking to drum up business named Robert Freeman-Longo. He pulled an astronomically high recidivism rate for UNTREATED sex offenders of 80-85%. He had no empirical evidence upon which to base that percentage. His “research”, if you want to call it that, was not subject to any sort of peer review like any LEGITIMATE scientific study would be. That statistic for UNTREATED sexual offenders was manipulated to say ALL SEX OFFENDERS recidivate 80-85% of the time. The phrase “frightening and high” has been deeply entrenched in sex offender legislation ever since. A “frightening and high recidivism rate” among sex offenders is mentioned in the preamble of pretty much every piece of sex offender legislation and has been parroted by the courts pretty much every time a challenge to sex offender registry schemes is raised.

          (2) Barbara Schwartz, who worked for the Justice Department, had been tasked to write a manual on sex offender treatment. She has freely admitted in her old age that she had to make up a program and that her ONLY TWO SOURCES WERE THE DICTIONARY AND ROBERT FREEMAN-LONGO’S “PSYCHOLOGY TODAY” article.

  3. Your Facebook post about this article showed a man’s picture, name, and address. That seems ironic. I know the man pictured and had no idea about his conviction. I’m sorry his information showed up on Facebook. As your article states he did serve his sentence and has stayed out of trouble for almost 20 years. I hope you’ll take down his picture and information.

    1. The guy is also the lead challenger on the case so his information is actually relevant to the article.

      1. His face and name arguably are; his address is not. Reason shtupped the pooch on this one

  4. For whatever reason, I seem to get one of the postcards from these folks (telling me that they moved into my neighborhood) about once a year.

    1. You get those postcards because the state coerces these people to send them out at their own expense. They’ll go to prison if they don’t humiliate themselves by sending those post cards out announcing their arrival in your neighborhood.

  5. Its punitive impact far outweighs any value it might have in protecting the public. In fact, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch concluded, registration can violate the Eighth Amendment.

    Sudaphed is now illegal because a few morons use it to make meth. So everyone else suffers for the acts of a few.

    Likewise, we have a few who may not deserve the Sex Offender Registry, but by and large, I will let them suffer for the acts of most who are on the Sex Offender Registry. There is nothing in the world worse than a sexual deviant preying upon children and the weaker of society. To the Sex Offender, you most likely got what you deserve. Violating the Eighth Amendment would be the least of your worries if I ever see you in the street. You ought to be shot down like a rabid dog.

    1. You’re actually the rabid dog who needs to be shot down.

    2. Suggested reading before reaching the street.

    3. You just made a terrorist threat and can be prosecuted for such.

  6. Hats off to the HONORABLE Judge Matsch. He nailed it right on the head. Now, if the SCOTUS will drop the long-debunked “high and frightening recidivism rate” myth, maybe these laws can be overturned nation-wide. They are punitive by virtue of intent, design, and effect.

    When you look at the sub-human manner in which registered sex offenders in the path of Harvey were treated in Texas and Louisiana, no honest human being with a shred of decency can deny the absolute bitter animosity and hate imposed on sex offender under the color of public safety. Just look at how the Polk County, FLA sheriff is denying safe, comfortable shelter with compassionate care to registered sex offenders in the path of a Hurricane of unprecedented strength and destructive capability. The laws in Florida are so restrictive that they banish these HUMAN beings and legislate them into conditions most wouldn’t let a dog live in. No running water, no electricity, no toilet facilities, and no way to get in out of the elements. I am convinced “respectable ‘Christian’ ” society is no such thing and have degenerated to the point they have no morals whatsoever.

  7. EVERYONE is gonna say “too bad let em burn bla bla bla. But what these idiots dont grasp, is the usa is a FOR PROFIT prison system, and they cant do ANYTHING that isnt based off that idea. They took the idea of fear, hate, and “psycho science” and used it as a means to make money. the REAL Registry has people on it that have never done what one would think as a “pedophile” at all. It includes people in highschool who were seniors that were dating freshmen, who then graduated and the parents didnt like the situation and pressed charges to stop the daughter from dating the boy who was then 19 as the girl was 15. And things like that. Highschoolers dating college people. things like that.
    How common in American history is THAT?
    Who called THAT “pedophiles?”
    the other issue is the notion that somehow what a person is at 20, is what they are at 40, and what they are at 60.
    And lastly, what you are when you go to jail is what you are when you leave, as if being in Jail wont change a person.
    Jail is not a normal experience by no means. If the experience of jail isnt changing people, then why is it, that jail has made people get worse in many cases?

  8. It should also be clear that a person that is involved with a family member is totally different than a person that would go after someone on the street. If the pedo was going after people that wasnt related to him, he clearly isnt attracted to his own relatives. Why would he be? he would be no more interested into his own family as a the people in hollywood who are doing the casting couch are interested in doing the casting couch for their mom.

    the Registry, is blindly taking a blanket and hurling it over everyone and all the cases, which is retarded…

    And then anyone that looks at the situation is then attacked as “defending pedophiles,” and assumed to be a pedophile.

    thats stupid, and redneck logic.

    I see the situation as similar to racism. An the people that are so quick to do the attacking look similar to the people that are the White nationals types, and the racists types, and the like. thats Why I am here. When I see the stories of people bashing people who are on the registry, Or commenting about people who are, And it goes back decades, And the police are arresting people, and the guy is some working stiff, Im like , “REALLY!?!?!”

    Here’s some guy, working, doing NOTHING WRONG but he didnt register for some stupid internet site so people could bother him and troll him, that any other situation, would be called “cyberbullying” and youre arresting the guy!?!

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