DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s attorney general says she is considering next steps after a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s sex offender registry is unconstitutional.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said Friday that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation will keep operating the registry, which includes names, photos and other information about offenders.
Coffman says she is “committed to having a robust sex offender registry in our state that protects the public.”
The ruling on Thursday applies only to the three offenders who filed the lawsuit. The men still have to petition a state judge to remove them. Their attorney says the ruling still could help other offenders.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch wrote that being on the registry subjected the three offenders to “cruel and unusual punishment” by the public.
Colorado’s sex offender registry is unconstitutional, subjecting offenders to “cruel and unusual punishment” by the public and restrictions on their ability to find work or homes long after completing prison or probation and parole sentences, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch ruled Thursday in the case of three offenders who want to remove their information from the registry, the latest example of courts limiting states’ efforts to keep track of offenders.
Matsch wrote that the registry exposes “the registrants to punishments inflicted not by the state but by their fellow citizens.”
The ruling has no immediate effect, even for the three offenders named in the case, said their attorney Alison Ruttenberg, but each can use the ruling to ask state judges to remove them from the registry. The decision still could have sweeping implications for Colorado and potentially other states, dependent on how state judges and other officials respond this fall.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Cynthia Coffman didn’t immediately return messages from The Associated Press on Friday. CBS4 reported that the attorney general’s office hasn’t decided whether it will file an appeal.
Ruttenberg said Colorado offenders can use Matsch’s decision to ask state judges to remove them from the registry or to defend themselves against charges of failing to register.
If the state appeals to the 10th Circuit Court but fails to get the order overturned, the case also could be cited in other states, she said.
“These people had done everything society asked them to do,” Ruttenberg said. “They served their sentence, stayed out of trouble and had done nothing else wrong but were being publicly vilified.”
In Colorado, offenders’ names, addresses, photos and other identifying features are posted on a state website, based on offenders’ registrations with local law enforcement. The offenders’ lawsuit argued that the information makes it difficult for offenders to find jobs and housing. Routine visits by police and flyers posted on doors clearly identify them as registered sex offenders, the suit says.
Matsch also blasted state judges who denied one offender’s requests to be removed from the registry for “Kafka-esque” proceedings that asked the offender to prove that he would not commit another offense and then ruling against him on their “subjective opinions.” The system continues to punish offenders for years after completing a court-ordered sentence, he said.
“The fear that pervades the public reaction to sex offenses_particularly as to children_generates reactions that are cruel and in disregard of any objective assessment of the individual’s actual proclivity to commit new sex offenses,” Match wrote. “The failure to make any individual assessment is a fundamental flaw in the system.”
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