Sunday, February 22, 2015

McGuire v. Strange, Case No. 2:11-CV-1027-WKW(WO), (US Dist. Ct, MD AL, Northern Div, 2 Feb. 2015)

A recent decision in US District Court has declared portions of the state's registry law unconstitutional when applied retroactively. Specifically, it declared two requirements of the state registry unconstitutional as applied in the following two situations:

(1) in-town homeless registrants to register (or check-in) on a weekly basis with two separate law-enforcement jurisdictions as provided by § 15-20A-12(b) in conjunction with § 15-20A-4(13) and
(2) all in-town registrants to complete travel permit applications with two separate law-enforcement jurisdictions as provided by § 15-20A-15 in conjunction with § 15-20A-4(13).

Unfortunately, the court still regards registration, residency restrictions, employment proximity restrictions, and the imposition of fees "nonpunitive" taken individually; however, the Court's decision leaves open the possibility that given the proper argument and evidence, the Court could indeed determine Alabama's sex offender registry law, taken as a whole, could be declared punitive. It simply was not the case this time.

Here is a brief summary of the recent decision, courtesy of eAdvocate:

If you want to read the entire case, click here:

MICHAEL A. McGUIRE, Plaintiff,
LUTHER STRANGE, in his official capacity, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 2:11-CV-1027-WKW(WO).
United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division.

February 5, 2015.

The section of most interest to us is Secion IV (findings of law) subsection f. Whether, in Their Necessary Operation, ASORCNA's Provisions are Excessive with Respect to the Provisions' Nonpunitive Purposes

But ASORCNA does not stop there. Rather, it supplements in-person registration, registration fees, residency and employment restrictions, and community-notification measures with additional provisions creating a scheme that regulates sex offenders far beyond the scheme in any other state. For example, excluding legislation aimed at sexually violent predators, no other state has a scheme whereby sex offenders are retroactively regulated for life through residency, employment, and travel restrictions. In fact, only one other state — Tennessee — employs residency, employment, and out-of-county travel restrictions, and it tempers the effects of these provisions, providing for partial retroactivity and allowing offenders who have successfully complied with the act for ten years to petition for termination of participation in the registration program. T.C.A. § 40-39-207. No other state requires dual registration or dual travel permits for in-town sex offenders, instead allowing registrants to report to any single local law enforcement agency -- whether municipal or county. See, e.g., Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-22-102(4.5); 739 Ill. Comp. Stat. 150/1 § 2(d); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 22-4902(m). Only five other states -- Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, and South Carolina — join Alabama in applying sex-offender regulations retroactively for the entirety of a registrant's life, but not one of those five states imposes travel restrictions, and only one of the five imposes residency and employment restrictions. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-3821 et seq.; Del. Code Ann. § 4120 et seq.; Haw. Rev. Stat. § 846E-1 et seq.; Idaho Code Ann. § 18-8301 et seq.; S.C. Code. Ann. §23-3-400 et seq.

ASORCNA is the nation's most comprehensive sex offender regulatory scheme; it is designed to enhance public safety, prevent recidivism, and to protect vulnerable populations. Such a regulatory scheme, by its nature, will have a greater effect in its sum than when each of the scheme's individual components is examined in isolation, but that in and of itself does not make the scheme's cumulative effects unreasonable. That is not to say, however, that the features that overlay the entire scheme &mdash: no risk assessment, lifetime application, retroactive application for all-time, felony enforcement by the gross, border-to-border (rather than parcel-to-parcel), Ala. Code § 15-20A-11(g), residential and employment restrictions, and the chosen method of printing "SEX OFFENDER" in red lettering on the face of driver's licenses &mdash: are entirely nonpunitive and non-retributive. These provisions are, especially when considered in toto, in excess of every other scheme operating across the country, and such a stark comparison highlights areas where ASORCNA's effects have a very real potential to exceed their nonpunitive benefits. But that is not enough -- Mr. McGuire bears the burden of showing by the clearest proof that ASORCNA's provisions are excessive with respect to the Legislature's stated nonpunitive purposes, and Mr. McGuire has failed to carry that heavy burden, with two important exceptions.

First, Mr. McGuire has shown that the provision requiring double, weekly registration for in-town homeless offenders -- totaling up to 112 registrations in-person a year -- is excessive. No credible reason was given in support of this requirement. The argument that such a provision increases contact with law enforcement begs the question and falls into the State's misplaced view of unlimited effects being constitutional: If weekly double registration is good, then daily double registration would be sevenfold better? Considering the additional burdens of felony enforcement for violations, lifetime residential and employment restrictions, and lifetime travel restrictions (with yet more double-registration requirements), the weekly double-registration feature of the scheme for in-town homeless offenders is clearly excessive in relation to ASORCNA's stated nonpunitive purposes. Requiring a homeless individual to travel to two different law enforcement agencies to complete a substantially identical check-in process every week is so excessive in effect as to be punitive, especially in view of the combined weight of the other features on a homeless offender. And as established in Section C.II.c, infra, this requirement is a direct, affirmative disability or restraint.

Second, Mr. McGuire has shown that the provision requiring the completion of two identical travel permit applications prior to any three-day or more trip outside an in-town registrant's county of residence is excessive. Again, no credible reason was given in support of this duplicative procedure. While the State could again point to increased communication with law enforcement, as was discussed above, this is an instance of highly diminished returns coupled with substantially increased burdens. Additionally, § 15-20A-15(e) already requires the sheriff in the registrant's county of residence (not the municipal jurisdiction) to "immediately notify local law enforcement in the county or the jurisdiction to which the" registrant will be traveling, so it would be logical to conclude that the sheriff could also inform any applicable municipal law enforcement entity of the impending travel once a singular permit is completed. Ala. Code § 15-20A-15(e). When considering the double travel permit requirement in light of the other burdens borne by those subject to ASORCNA and the absence of any increase in benefit to ASORCNA's state nonpunitive purpose, the requirement is excessive to the point of being punitive.

As to all other of ASORCNA's provisions, Mr. McGuire has not shown that the Legislature's chosen regulatory means, individually or cumulatively, are clearly excessive in relation to the statute's nonpunitive purposes, and this factor does not point to a finding that ASORCNA as a whole is so punitive in purpose or effect as to negate the Legislature's stated intent. This finding is entered with serious reservations as to some features (especially the red-lettered branding of the face of required identification), but is consistent with the court's understanding of deference due to the judgment of the Alabama Legislature in regulating sex offenders in Alabama, and the State's discretion in implementing the various provisions of the scheme.


  1. That is impressive that as a whole that the RSO laws in Alabama are the most punitive... Takes a lot to be worse than even California or New York!
    And I don't understand how extortion by the state can be constitutional. The law flat out states pay the registration fee or go to prison. What other fees do this?

  2. This is also why I'm not convinced our salvation will come at the hands of the courts. It should be plain as day we crossed the line into punitiveness long ago.

  3. Anyone who has ever been under a Sex Offender Registration Law can tell you it is definitely punishment!