U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch ruled that Colorado’s sex offender registry law was unconstitutional early this September, citing the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment”, as it impeded on offender’s ability to find work or housing after completing probation and parole. While this ruling has no immediate effect, even on the three sex offenders who wanted to remove their information from the registry, if the case is appealed and upheld by the federal 10th Circuit (which includes courts in Colorado, Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oklahoma), then it would be binding.
The three plaintiffs described instances where they were punished outside of the judicial system, citing examples where all three were unable to find housing after hundreds of rental applications. In Judge Matsch’s ruling he determined that the law exposed sex offenders to punishments “not by the state, but by fellow citizens.” According to The Denver Post, Alison Ruttenberg (the three men’s lawyer) stated that her “goal eventually is to get rid of this sex offender registration altogether, at least as it applies to a public registry that people can pull up on a website.”
While the federal judge concluded that Colorado’s registration act poses a “serious threat of retaliation, violence, ostracism, shaming, and other unfair and irrational treatment from the public”, not everyone agrees. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office defended the sex offender registration act and has announced that she intends to appeal the decision. She cites that the three plaintiffs were all convicted sex offenders who committed sexual assault against minors and that “we must never lose sight of the responsibility we have to prevent the victimization of more innocent people.” She also states that the U.S. Supreme Court has already decided that sex offender registration laws are constitutional.
It is uncertain whether or not the 10th Circuit will uphold Matsch’s ruling or not. Late last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that Michigan’s sex offender registration amendments were unconstitutional as they imposed continued punishment on sex offenders, and on October 3, 2017 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in a unanimous decision that the court would not take up Michigan’s appeal.
At the heart of the debate in Colorado is whether or not the public sex offender registry penalizes offenders too much, and if the public registry is effective at protecting citizens. While we don’t know yet how the 10th Circuit will rule, if sex offender records are no longer made public in the end, this could have a great effect on your tenant screening and the safety of your rental properties.
Do you think the Sex Offender Registry should remain public? Do you think the sex offender registry is effective at protecting the public? Let us know your thoughts and subscribe for more legislative updates!