Changes To Sex Offender Registry On Hold Because Of Covid-19

A federal court has made a ruling which will temporarily suspend a prior order that would have invalidated Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA). The pandemic has made it virtually impossible for lawmaker to convene to actually be able to make changes and rewrite the invalidated laws surrounding SORA. The pandemic has also brought a lot of confusion surrounding any type of real enforcement as the police are also dealing with their own issues related to COVID-19. This judge’s ruling makes clear that the registry cannot be enforced during this pandemic.

Original Problems With SORA

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland issued a decision that invalidates parts of the Michigan Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA). His ruling has stated that parts of SORA are actually unconstitutional and must be rewritten. This dealt, in part, with requirements that people on the registry were not allowed to work or live less than 1,000 feet from where children gather and play. This among other rules were added in 2006 and 2011 and subsequently applied retroactively to people already on the registry. The judge also ruled that several provisions of SORA are void due to vagueness, strict liability issues, and under the First Amendment. This ruling affects some 44,000 people that are currently on the registry. This is a fight that has been raging on since the same Judge making a similar ruling back in 2015. The state legislature has been pushed to rewrite SORA legislation so it can fall back under constitutional rules, but they still have not done so. With the current pandemic, it does not look like these changes will be taking place anytime soon.

Expected Changes

The current status of SORA has been mostly due to the Michigan legislature’s inaction to rewrite the rules of SORA, so they conform with the requirements under the United States Constitution. Now with the added COVID-19 pandemic upon us, it would not be wise to expect that government activity will be moving at anything more than a snail’s pace. The judge set a 60-day window that started as of the date of the written opinion which was issued on February 14, 2020. The judge stated, “to be clear: SORA will not become unenforceable as of the date of this order. Rather, the holdings in this opinion will become effective and enforceable only after the entry of a final judgement, at the time specified in that final judgement.”

Where We Currently Stand

Many people on the registry have tried to report in person as usually expected but have been turned away. The widespread closure of police stations had made it basically impossible for those on the registry to comply with their requirements. The closure of much of the rest of state government has also made it impossible for lawmaker to take the next steps in fixing SORA once and for all. We are in a very similar place legally to where we were back on February 14, 2020, when Judge Cleland made his original decision. The pandemic is a very legitimate reason for this delay, it is however not the first delay in dealing with the laws surrounding SORA. This issue has been ongoing for some five years now. Once the pandemic is declared over, then both sides will have two weeks to enter their final judgements as to how they planned to notify all the people on the registry of the pending changes to the law. The ruling will (finally) go into effect 60 days after both sides file their judgements.

Any Further Questions?

If you or someone you love is facing an issue related to SORA or a criminal charge it is important to seek the advice of a qualified criminal defense attorney. At Grabel & Associates we are happy to offer a FREE consultation to anyone who has questions about their case or a loved one’s. Our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients facing criminal charges all over the state of Michigan. Feel free to reach out to us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide offices. We can also come to you.

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