Wichita A Kansas judge has ordered law enforcement agencies to remove a man’s name from the state’s offender registry, saying an amended law ostracizes offenders and requires them to remain registered longer than necessary.
Tuesday’s decision by Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks addressed only the case of the man who sued to end his registering requirement, but it could extend to others in his situation if the state Supreme Court upholds it upon appeal. High courts in other states have struck down similar registration laws that have been found to be too excessive.
The Kansas law requires sex, drug and violent offenders to register with law enforcement. It applies retroactively and offenders must register for 15 years to life, depending on the severity of the crime. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s registry shows 94 convicted sex offenders living in Douglas County.
Chris Joseph, the plaintiff’s attorney, said that if the ruling stands, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation may have to relieve thousands of convicted offenders of the requirement to stay on the registry.
“It means he has a chance to live a normal life and, frankly, I think this is the right thing to do,” Joseph said. “He is not a danger, and he has served his sentence.”
Neither the state Attorney General’s Office nor the KBI responded to emails Tuesday seeking comment.
The plaintiff pleaded guilty in 2003 to having taken indecent liberties with a child/touching in Johnson County. At the time, he was required to remain on the registry for 10 years, until this year. But in 2011, the Legislature amended the law and among other changes, it extended the length of time that offenders have to remain registered to 25 years. The state told the plaintiff it applied retroactively and that he had to remain registered until 2028.
“It is punishment, it is punitive and to suddenly extend it to 25 years or life is not constitutional,” Joseph said.
Kansas offenders are also required to report in person four times per year where they live, work or attend school. They must register within three days of changing residences or jobs and must tell law enforcement when they plan to travel internationally. They must pay a $20 fee each time they report something, and they are identified as sex offenders on their driver’s licenses.
The law also requires offenders to provide on their registration form their address, phone numbers, vehicle information, professional licenses, palm prints, email addresses, online identities, memberships in online social networks and travel documents. Failure to comply with the requirements is a felony with a sentence of 32 to 36 months in prison.
Hendricks noted that when citizens use the Johnson County website to post registry information on social media websites, social media users can then comment about the registry posting — in effect using the website to create a virtual forum for public shaming. He likened the web notification provisions and driver’s license notations to “traditional colonial punishments.”
The judge said the state’s registration requirement was excessive and exceeded the time necessary to protect public safety. He cited studies that found the risk of a sex offender committing another sex crime drops significantly as he or she ages.
Hendricks noted that the court was aware of the emotion elicited by the offender registry law.
“However, people controlled by this act also have relatives that are affected by the act. The increased requirements that are in effect, increased punishment, do not and cannot survive the revealing light of our Constitution,” he wrote in the decision. “We must protect the individual rights of all people to insure the protection of our own individual rights, no matter what our emotions might tell us.”