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Federal Judge Deems Sex Offender Registry 'Cruel And Unusual'

Posted by Seth Chazin | Sep 08, 2017

© User: Dtobias / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has a sex offender registry which is readily available to members of the public. It contains the names, addresses, pictures, descriptions and more information on any sex offender on the list.

In 2013, three registered sex offenders brought a civil case against the Director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and a ruling was issued Thursday August 31, 2017. Federal Judge Richard Matsch found that the Sex Offender Registration Act in Colorado violates two parts of the constitution. It violates the 8th Amendment, as it can be considered as cruel and unusual punishment, and it also violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process rights. Matsch also found that the plaintiffs were entitled to compensation, and attorney fees.

Alison Ruttenberg, attorney for the plaintiffs, was pleased with the decision. She said that the plaintiffs were at risk of vigilante action, their homes could be targeted and they could even have been killed. She said that this amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

While this ruling only applies to the three plaintiffs in the case, this is a landmark case that could bring great change. Registration doesn't actually help keep communities any safer, as sex offenders have low rates of recidivism, which means that registration is not really necessary.

Brie Franklin, of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault said that registration is a ‘sense of false safety' because there are sex offenders who haven't been caught and are not on the registry.

The Colorado Attorney General's office has said that no decisions have been made on whether or not they're going to appeal the ruling, but Ruttenberg said that she expects that some cases will eventually reach the Supreme Court. She said her goal is to see an end to public registration.

Under California Penal Code 290, convicted sex offenders must re-register every year, and keep law enforcement updated on their movements, address, and any other pertinent information.  This applies to convictions for charges such as rape (Penal Code 261), sexual assault (Penal Code 243.4), child molestation (Penal Code 288 (a), 269, and 288.5), possession of child pornography (Penal Code 311.11), indecent exposure (Penal Code 314) and others. Megan’s Law makes information on some sex offenders available to the public on the internet.

We expect to see similar challenges here in California.

Further Reading

CBS Denver: Judge Finds Colorado Sex Offender Registry Unconstitutional

Denver Post: Colorado sex offender registration act is unconstitutional, federal judge declares

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson