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 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 as of this writing they have not done so.
What Parts Were Declared Unconstitutional?
Most of the issues relating to SORA have to do with the residency exclusions that people on the registry face. These restrictions are overbroad and vague. Other areas that have been ruled unconstitutional deal with requirements related to registration, restrictions on loitering, and reporting and registration requirements. The judge stated that the court recognizes that his ruling will “fracture” the existing structure of SORA. One of the biggest claims against SORA is that many of the requirements in SORA have been changed and retroactively applied to everyone on the registry after the fact, in effect further punishing those who have already been punished for their crimes.
How Did We Get Here?
Michigan has the fourth largest state registry in the country. Approximately 2,000 people are added to the registry every year. SORA costs taxpayers in upwards of $1.5 million per year just to maintain the registration database which is operated by the Michigan State Police central registration unit. The Michigan Sex Offender Registry act was originally passed in 1994. In 2006 and 2011 respectively, the Michigan legislature expanded the laws surrounding the registry. The changes were applied retroactively to all people on SORA. The changes made many have to register for life and implemented many geographic exclusion zones which prevented those on SORA from living, working or generally being present in large areas of pretty much every city across the state. The new rules also imposed new in-person reporting rules and made it against the law for those on SORA to travel anywhere for a week or longer, to borrow a car, or even get a new email address without immediately reporting it to the police. Lawsuits were filed against the act by “John Does” that are on registrants on SORA and it since has turned into a class-action lawsuit affecting everyone that is on SORA.
Where Are We Now?
The judge set a 60-day window before this judgement becomes effective. This 60-day window starts as of the date of the judge’s written opinion issued on February 14, 2020. The idea is that within this 60-day period legislature will finally come up with a new statute that conforms to the constitution. If the Michigan legislature does not come up with new legislation within that 60-day window, then the state of Michigan will no longer be able to enforce the law against pre-2011 registrants.
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.” The ball is back in the court (again) of the Michigan legislature to finally do something. When that actually happens remains to be seen. This is a forceful push by the judge in order to finally make changes to have SORA fall back in line with the protections of the constitution.
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.