LANSING — A U.S. Supreme Court justice on Tuesday denied Michigan’s request to halt a lower court decision that found the state unconstitutionally put new restrictions on registered sex offenders long after their convictions.
Justice Elena Kagan’s decision means law enforcement can no longer retroactively enforce 2006 and 2011 changes to the country’s fourth-largest sex offender list while the state pursues an underlying appeal in the high court, said Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August said Michigan’s revisions, which included restricting sex offenders’ movements near schools and listing many on the registry for life, retroactively penalized offenders as “moral lepers” and there is “scant” evidence that the law accomplishes goals such as reducing recidivism. Kagan rejected Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s emergency appeal to block the ruling. His office still plans to ask the high court to review the appellate court’s decision.
In a filing last week, Schuette warned that the 6th Circuit’s ruling would take effect early this week unless a stay was granted. He said the state should be able to appeal “without being forced to make costly, time-consuming, and complex changes to its sex-offender registry and enforcement protocols that may prove unnecessary should this Court decide to grant review.”
A Schuette spokeswoman said the office was reviewing the decision. The Michigan State Police, which maintains the list, issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies on Oct. 14 notifying them of the earlier appellate opinion.
“We have instructed law enforcement officers to consult with their prosecutor’s office prior to taking any enforcement action related to the 2006 and 2011 amendments to Michigan’s” Sex Offenders Registration Act, agency spokeswoman Shanon Banner said.
The registry has 42,900 registrants, including more than 39,000 whose names and photos are shown on a searchable public website. About 10,700 are incarcerated.
“Police should not be enforcing parts of the law that the court said are unconstitutional,” Aukerman said. “Our registry is broken, and Michigan families deserve public safety measures that actually work — not a failed, ineffectual system that stigmatizes people who are not a threat.”
The state began prohibiting registrants from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of school property in 2006. Five years later, lawmakers required that offenders be divided into three tiers based on the seriousness of their crimes, rather than on individualized assessments. Many offenders must be listed on the registry for life under the changes.
The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU and the University of Michigan Clinical Law Program on behalf of six people who are on the registry for life, including some who were older teenagers who had sex with underage teens. It is unclear how many thousands of offenders will be affected by the case.
Critics argue that the registry, initially created in 1994, lists so many people that it does not identify the truly dangerous offenders.