One of the perpetual debates between the Right and Left in America is the treatment of criminals. Conservatives generally seek harsher punishment for offenders, while liberals, who tend to view criminals as victims of social circumstances, call for clemency and reformative sentences.
This difference in worldview is now highly relevant in Colorado politics. According to the Washington Times, the Colorado attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s lifetime sex offender registry is unconstitutional.
Despite the fact that sex offender registries are in place in every state and the District of Columbia, Richard Matsch, US district judge, invalidated Colorado’s sex offender registry, saying it violated the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. This amendment protects Americans from excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment.
For Matsch, the sex offender registry fails to comply with the Eighth Amendment because the “public shaming” it provokes can be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.” Moreover, Matsch argues sex offenders can lose employment opportunities because of their presence on the registry–a consequence he says constitutes “excessive fines.”
Matsch wrote: “The record, in this case, reflects that maintaining the sex offender registry, requiring Internet publication of information on the registry, and permitting republication of the information by private websites have effects that are analogous to the historical punishment of shaming.”
Coffman has filed a notice of appeal against Matsch’s ruling. If accepted, it will be taken up by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Colorado attorney general says her state’s sex offender registry is essential to protecting the general public from future victimization by sex offenders.
“Survivors of sexual assault are forever impacted by the trauma they have experienced, and we must never lose sight of the responsibility we have to prevent the victimization of more innocent people,” Coffman declared.
Coffman’s statement suggests sex offenders are likely to act out again even after they have fulfilled their sentences. Statistics indicate that there are a significant number of repeat offenders.
According to Health Research Funding, offenders with a previous sex offense conviction have a 37 percent re-offense rate, and rapists repeat their offense up to 35 percent. Moreover, adolescent offenders who don’t receive treatment commit an estimated 380 sex crimes over their lifetime. These startling figures seemingly validate Colorado’s Lifetime Supervision of Sex Offenders Act.
Federal judge rules that Colorado’s lifetime sex offender registry is unconstitutional. Is the registry unfair to sex offenders?
The ruling against Colorado’s sex offender registry comes soon after a similar decision in Michigan. The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit struck down Michigan’s attempt to retroactively apply its sex offender registration law to convicts sentenced before the creation of the state’s sex offender registry.
In its ruling, the 6th Circuit Court cited the prohibition against ex post facto laws found in Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution. Michigan is appealing its case to the US Supreme Court. That makes two major cases in the works, which together could decide the fate of sex offender registry laws throughout America.
This issue raises questions of public safety vs. privacy. Should one or both of these cases make it to the Supreme Court, it would likely be one of the most followed hearings in recent years.