Sex Registration (SORA) in Michigan: Has the Legislature Gone Too Far?

With the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanagh to the United States Supreme Court and the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford being displayed across our television screens and Google, we have to ask ourselves, as a society, is there a line in the sand when it comes to the accusation of rape? While the words of Dr. Ford garnered praise from many across the country, others have been disturbed that the allegations made against Justice Kavanagh are over from 36 years ago. While there is a political divide on this issue, the topic of rape (CSC) allegations and the punishment of forcing a defendant to register as a sex offender (SORA) have presented a major dilemma in the state of Michigan as our state has the toughest penalties for this offense. To gain insight on the topic, we asked top criminal lawyers their thoughts. iStock_000000341623_Large-2-300x200

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed a team that is known as the strongest criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. When asked about the issue of SORA and how the effects are within the state of Michigan, Grabel stated, “About a year ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the severity of the issue in the state of Michigan. Many in the legislature wanted to actually expand SORA to make it retroactive. There is no question that SORA is over-inclusive. It’s not fair that an 18-year-old kid that has consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend is going to face prison time and be labeled as a sex offender because he or she will be placed on the same list as a 50-year-old pedophile that is trying to prey on children. While the intent of the legislature may be to protect society, they have actually created more victims with the current legislation.”

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and his firm has started to garner a great deal of national attention for their results in criminal law. When asked about SORA, McManus stated, “The statute of limitations being expanded certainly changed the game. Now, somebody can say they were raped decades ago and can be convicted with no physical evidence and even have their bond pulled when a plea deal is made. The rules of evidence are extremely relaxed on this issue and it seems that the law favors the prosecution when the case begins. While we have to respect that the prosecution has a job to protect society there also has to be some limitations. It’s terrifying that someone could be charged with a crime from decades ago with little substantiation. When we look at the United States Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanagh, we have to look at it from two different aspects. The first is that if Dr. Ford is telling the truth than Justice Kavanagh is someone that we probably do not want on the bench as one of the 9 most powerful jurists in the world. Alternatively, the allegation is 36 years old. Can we really charge someone with an allegation from that long ago? If this were Michigan, Justice Kavanagh could be facing the potential of being on the registry. I’m not sure how to feel about that?”

Ravi Gurumurthy is an Associate Attorney for Grabel and Associates and the founder of Michigan Legal North. When asked about the current SORA situation, Gurumurthy was quoted as saying, “Many prosecutors are using the registration of SORA to bolster their careers. A good litigator has to see both sides of an argument and the argument is whether we are protecting the community or hurting the community with such a vast statute in place?”

As we look at the current atmosphere of sex laws and we see what is happening at the United States Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the such and the power of the “MeToo” movement, we do have to ask where is the line drawn? There is no question that the intent of the Michigan Legislature was to protect society but how far did they go? If someone is convicted of a sex crime when he or she is 17 does that mean it should follow them their entire life? As it stands right now, a 16-year-old having consensual sex with a 15-year-old could end up in prison and on the registry. Was that the intent of the statute?

While we want to err on the side of protecting society, we have to ask whether or not the punishment fits the crime. Whether you support Trump or Clinton, Kavanagh or Ford, the reality is that if the middle ground cannot be reached and SORA is not altered in the state of Michigan, many young people will pay far too great of a price for simply not understanding the law. If there were force and coercion, the penalty seems just but to make CSC as a whole a strict liability offense will present a situation where Lady Justice is not actually blind but is overly selective on whom she wants to penalize.

William Amadeo is a partner at the law firm Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate at Grabel and Associates. In addition to his legal duties, Amadeo is a journalist for “The Chronicle News” and numerous other publications against the world wide web. Amadeo also owns and operates “Bat Tutoring” in Lansing, Michigan. He can be reached at Williamamadeo@Grabellaw.com.

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