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Federal Judge Rules Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act is Unconstitutional

Rudy Verner and Yasmina Shaush

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The Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act (“SORA”) requires a person convicted of unlawful sexual behavior to register with his or her local law enforcement agency as a sex offender. Registrants must re-register with law enforcement at least annually and any time they change addresses or names.

On Thursday, August 31, 2017, Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled SORA, as applied to three plaintiffs, violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eight Amendment and the substantive due process requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Plaintiffs David Millard, Eugene Knight, and Arturo Vega, all registered sex offenders, brought suit against Michael Rankin in his official capacity as Director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, alleging continued enforcement of the requirements of SORA against them violates their rights under the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments.

The court described in detail how the online registry debilitated the lives of the three offenders, long after serving their sentences. The three men in this suit struggled to find and retain employment, feared retribution from others in the community, and, in the case of Mr. Millard, faced difficulty in finding housing.

This decision comes on the heels of a heated discussion in Boulder regarding a number of sexually violent predators currently living at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. The Daily Camera reported Boulder police Chief Greg Testa wrote the Colorado Department of Corrections Division of Adult Parole, asking that the department stop placing paroled sexually violent predators in the city. Chief Testa is concerned about the police department’s ability to “effectively manage [a sexually violent predator] because of a lack of a stable housing environment[,]” the Daily Camera reports.

Balancing the safety of the community with the constitutional rights of sex offenders may prove contentious. While Judge Matsch’s decision does not bind the State of Colorado with respect to other registered offenders, the three plaintiffs could use it to persuade a state court judge to remove their names from the registry. Such a decision could then serve as precedent for other offenders seeking to remove their names.