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“The registration requirements imposed by SORA [Colorado’s Sex Offender Registration Act], coupled with the actual and potential effects of being required to register, are not merely akin to historical punishments, as discussed above. As shown by the evidence in this case, SORA’s requirements, as applied to Plaintiffs, subject them to additional punishment beyond their sentences through the pervasive misuse and dissemination of information published by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Defendant has offered no evidence that any Plaintiff presents an objective threat to society, such as a material risk of recidivism. Yet Plaintiffs have been and continue to be subjected to actual and potential dangers of ostracism and shaming; effective banishment and shunning in the form of limitations on their abilities to live and work without fear of arbitrary and capricious eviction, harassment, job relocation, and/or firing; significant restriction on familial association; and actual and potential physical and mental abuse by members of the public who for whatever reason become aware of their status as a registered sex offender. They are also subject to exposure by local law enforcement agencies making checks of their residences, as happened with Mr. Millard.”
“Mr. Millard’s experiences are particularly illustrative, where he has suffered the indignity of being unable to find housing despite hundreds of applications, has been forced to move because of a TV news story focusing on sex offenders in apartment housing, and, after finally managing to purchase his own home, has continued to suffer the indignity of loud public visits from the police and placement of bright markers on his door announcing his sex offender status to the neighborhood.”
“Another witness — not a registered sex offender herself — testified that she was subjected to harassment and shunning from her neighbors, in the form of letters, emails, personal visits, and Facebook posts, after she agreed to allow a registered sex offender to reside in her home. The pressure was so intense that it ultimately led her to sell her house and move, even though her acquaintance had moved out. All of these witnesses further demonstrated the significant and ubiquitous consequences faced by registered sex offenders and their families and associates.”
Richard Matsch, a conservative federal judge, wrote those words in 2017. In a stunning opinion he found that, as to the three registrants who brought the lawsuit, the Colorado sex offense registration law was unconstitutional because it violated the 14th Amendment both substantively and procedurally, and the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and usual punishment. Unfortunately, several years later, a federal appeals court overruled Judge Matsch’s decision. If the opinion no longer has the force of law, in this case the genie got out of the bottle. This ruling has the power of truth about the awfulness of registries – and that’s why it is still worth reading and remembering. Registration laws are very popular and that, of course, makes it easier for courts to uphold such statutes. Sustained organizing is needed, public education efforts to build opposition to registries and make it louder and more visible. That, in turn, can help shift public opinion and pave the way for judges (and lawmakers) to take more chances and even overturn these laws.
Here’s the link for Millard v. Rankin: