NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Supreme Court to Review Sex Offender Laws

November 4, 2002

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this term on the constitutionality of state sex offender laws -- which require offenders to register with authorities and their names be made public.

For example, Meagan's Laws, named for a New Jersey child who was the victim of a sex offender, are now on the books in all 50 states -- prompted, in part, by a federal law that threatened to withhold crime-fighting grants from states that did not pass such statutes.

  • The laws have been magnets for constitutional challenges by civil liberties groups and former offenders for imposing new punishments for old crimes and for violating principles of due process, double jeopardy and the right to privacy.
  • Those challenging the laws contend that they carve out a single category of criminal offenders for especially burdensome treatment -- but proponents contend that sex offenders are much more likely than other criminals to repeat their crimes.
  • Two Meagan's Law appeals -- brought by Alaska and Connecticut -- will be argued before the court on Nov. 13.
  • According to the Justice Department, the number of people imprisoned for sex crimes from 1980 to 1994 grew at a faster rate than for any other category of violent crime.

Connecticut is one of 25 states that publicize the whereabouts of all those who have committed particular sex offenses. The other states make individual assessments of the potential dangerousness of each offender.

Source: Linda Greenhouse, "States' Listings of Sex Offenders Raise a Tangle of Legal Issues," New York Times, November 4, 2002.


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