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Judge Bans Enforcement Of Sex Offender Registration Due To Coronavirus

Law enforcement officers in Michigan are prohibited from enforcing sex offender registry laws until after the pandemic.

Port Huron, MI – A federal judge has barred law enforcement officers from enforcing Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry requirements until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

In 2015 and 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland and the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that several aspects of the state’s Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA) were unconstitutional, the Times Herald reported.

In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class-action lawsuit asking the court to grant injunctive relief for many sex offenders on the grounds that the legislature failed to make amendments to the SORA that would have made the law constitutional, according to the Times Herald.

On Feb. 14, Cleland ruled that sections of the law that were enacted in 2011 could not be imposed on individuals who were ordered to register prior to 2011, and also struck down other rules entirely.

According to the judge, sex offenders “have been forced to comply with unconstitutional provisions,” MLive reported.

Cleland said that requiring sex offenders to report all of their phone numbers, email addresses, and instant messaging addresses violates their First Amendment rights, according to the Jurist.

Provisions prohibiting sex offenders from working or “loitering” in school zones were struck down due to their “vagueness,” the Jurist reported.

Cleland required the state and the ACLU to file judgements by March 13 regarding the process by which the state’s sex offenders would be notified about the SORA changes, but both parties ended up requesting an extension, according to the Times Herald.

Cleland pushed the matter out to March 20, but by the time that date rolled around, the global pandemic was well underway.

As a result of the chaos caused by COVID-19, the Michigan State Police Sex Offender Registration Unit was unable to submit their judgement, Cleland said.

The disruption caused by the novel coronavirus also made it nearly impossible to mail out notices to the state’s approximately 44,000 sex offenders because so many state employees were trying to work from home, the judge added.

Cleland said that sex offenders cannot comply with requirements to meet with law enforcement officers in-person because many offices are no longer open to the public, the Times Herald reported.

He declared that it is “effectively impossible for registrants” to comply with existing laws, and said that doing so “would in any event be inconsistent with current physical isolation directives,” according to MLive.

On April 6, Cleland issued an interim order barring police from enforcing the SORA altogether.

Under the temporary order, officials cannot enforce “registration, verification, school zone, and fee violations of SORA that occurred or may occur from February 14, 2020, until the current crisis has ended, and thereafter until registrants are notified of what duties they have under SORA going forward,” the Times Herald reported.

The issue will be reexamined after federal and state emergency statuses have been lifted, MLive reported.

Holly Matkin - April Mon, 2020


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