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Federal Court Finds Colorado Sex Offender Registry Unconstitutional

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

In what is sure to turn heads, a decision out of Colorado's Federal District Court has just ruled that the state's sex offender register scheme is unconstitutional. The court not only found that the scheme violated the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, but it also violated the Fourteenth Amendment's due process protections.

Fortunately, before the entire state goes into panic mode locking their loved ones indoors, the ruling only applies to three particular individuals that have been harmed by Colorado's registration process. Additionally, the case outlines some of the basic flaws and misconceptions inherent in the sex offender registration schemes used across the country.

Details of the Case(s)

This case actually is three cases in one. The three plaintiffs in this matter all sought to be removed or exempted from the registration requirements due to the harms they have suffered as a result. In short, each faced severe hardship in finding steady employment and housing. Jobs were lost, landlords kicked them out, neighbors and police routinely scorned them, and their lives were made incredibly difficult due to the online, public registry.

The court found that these problems the individuals faced made registration a punishment, which then triggers an Eighth Amendment analysis. Historically, the Eighth Amendment has found banishment and shaming, though not "barbaric" to still violate the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The registry essentially works as the epitome of modern banishment and shaming all in one website.

Appeal or Bust

The controversial nature of this case will likely cause many people to climb to the highest mountain top they can find online and demand an appeal be filed. However, as this is still only a federal district court decision, the precedent will not carry as much weight as a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion would. The state's AG is still deciding whether to file this risky appeal.

As the district court opinion points out, this issue may even be ripe for SCOTUS as Justice Kennedy recently wrote:

The troubling fact that the law imposes severe restrictions on persons who already have served their sentence and are no longer subject to the supervision of the criminal justice system is ... not an issue before the Court.

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