U.S. District Court Judge Robert N. Chatigny ruled Monday that Connecticut’s sex offender Web site law, a component of Megan’s Law, is unconstitutional.
The Connecticut Civil Liberties Union Foundation had filed suit claiming the law denies sex offenders due process because they have no opportunity to contest having to register for the Web site.
According to a statement from the CCLU Foundation, the plaintiff in Doe v. Lee claimed he was unfairly stigmatized as a dangerous sex offender without having the chance to prove he posed no threat to the community. The plaintiff claimed the Web database, accessible to the public through the Connecticut State Police Web site, displays personal information about convicted offenders, including their names, addresses and color photographs, and brands them as potentially dangerous.
“The current law allows too much in the definition of a sex offender,” said Philip Tegeler, an attorney for Doe and legal director of the CCLU, “and so lots of people on the list aren’t dangerous in any way.”
Tegeler cited 19-year-olds charged with statutory rape for dating 16-year-olds as an example of people who fall under the legal definition of “sex offender” and are obliged under the law to register with the site, but who pose no real threat to society.
“This Web site doesn’t have any public safety value as it is, because with the Connecticut state system, offenders can’t even challenge their placement on the list,” he said.
The suit also claimed that the Web site registration law is unconstitutional on ex post facto grounds, meaning that it imposes an additional punishment on the offender not included in his or her original sentencing, according to the CCLU press release.
The court will reconvene in a few weeks to decide on the appropriate response to the due process violation, Tegeler added.
“The defense argued that this is not a punishment but a public safety regulation,” he said. “But we disagree.”
In his ruling, Chatigny agreed that the Web site did indeed violate due process.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal could not be reached for comment.
Asked what course of action should be taken, Tegeler didn’t specify whether the CCLU would seek to dissolve or amend the sex offender Web site law.
“The state simply can’t leave it up there as it is,” he said.
Megan’s Law, a sex offender regulation and community notification law, became effective in Connecticut Oct. 1, 1998. According to a notice on Megan’s Law issued by Susan K. Smith, an attorney with offices in Hartford and Avon, Conn., similar laws were instituted in 18 other states, including Massachusetts and New York.
Tegeler cited a similar case in Massachusetts where he said another federal court “expressed concerns about registration schemes that go too far.”
In 1999 the New York Law Review reported on a case in Nassau County, N.Y., in which a judge ruled that in select cases, convicted sex offenders have the right to appeal their obligation to register for the sex offender database, which is mandated by New York’s Megan’s Law.
In Connecticut, convicted felons must maintain registration on the sex offender database for 10 years, and those convicted of serious crimes or declared not guilty by reason of insanity must provide DNA samples to be kept on record. The second U.S. Circuit Court upheld this statute in September 1999, according to Smith.
“I don’t think the judge is embracing a new doctrine with this ruling,” said Tegeler. “It is a solid ruling that should hold up on appeal.”