Alaska Supreme Court rules that sex offender registration law violates due process

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled 3-2 that part of the state’s Sexual Offender Registration Act violates due process rules, calling it “both too broad and arbitrary” after hearing a case brought by a man convicted of a sex crime in Virginia, who later moved to Alaska. The man was referred to in the lawsuit as John Doe.

The man’s argument against registering as a sex offender was twofold – that Alaska, for a number of reasons, couldn’t impose penalties on an offender due to an offense from out of state, and that the Alaska Sexual Offender Registration Act violates the due process clause of the Alaska Constitution.

The Alaska Supreme Court upheld the court’s decision on the first part of the law, requiring sex offenders with convictions from out-of-state to register in Alaska, but found that offenders must be offered an opportunity to make the case that they are no longer a danger to the community.

“In particular, he contends that ASORA infringes on a number of constitutionally protected rights, including: the right to integrate into society, the right to privacy, the right to be let alone, and the right to pursue employment,” the Alaska court wrote. “Doe contends that these rights are fundamental and that their infringement can only be justified if the State has a compelling interest and uses the least restrictive means available to vindicate that interest. He argues that there is no compelling interest justifying registration if an offender does not present a danger to the public, and that ASORA is deficient because it ‘provides no mechanism whereby a registrant can be relieved of the requirement if they prove they do not present a threat to the public.’ “

While the state of Alaska argued that the state’s interests of public safety are compelling and that there were no less restrictive means available to protect them, the court quoted the due process clause of the Alaska Constitution, saying it requires that adequate and fair procedures be employed when state action threatens protected life, liberty, or property interests.

The court agreed with the offender’s argument. “We have concluded that ASORA furthers a compelling state interest in protecting the public from sex offenders who ‘pose a high risk of reoffending after release from custody.’ But ASORA is both too broad and arbitrary when it includes offenders who are not dangerous. Since they pose no special risk to the public, their protected liberty interests plainly outweigh any public safety interests that might be furthered by requiring them to register,” the court wrote.

Instead of invalidating the rule, the Supreme Court Justices elected instead to allow the offender to file action in court in which he will try to prove that he’s no longer a risk to the public, and should not be required to continually register. These hearings are neither specifically required by the law, nor prohibited.

It was a close decision with three justices making the ruling, and Chief Justice Joel Bolger and Justice Craig Stowers disagreeing, saying the decision “leaves open a serious policy question: What quality of risk to the public is sufficient to justify registration?” the justices wrote in their dissenting opinion. “How does a small risk of a heinous offense compare to a moderate risk of a lesser offense? How does registration affect the likelihood of recidivism? What kinds of evidence are persuasive to resolve these questions?”

Editor's note: This story previously indicated that there are six Justices on the Alaska Supreme Court, but there are five. A Senior Justice was brought in when a Supreme Court Justice was unable to participate in the hearing.

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