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The Evolution of Unconstitutionality in Sex Offender Registration Laws by Catherine L. Carpenter [paper]



More is not always better. Consider sex offender registration laws. Initially anchored by rational basis, registration schemes have spiraled out of control because legislators, eager to please a fearful public, have been given unfettered freedom by a deferential judiciary.

This particular article does not challenge the state’s legislative power to enact sex offender registration laws. Instead, this piece posits that, even if sex offender registration schemes were initially constitutional, serially amended sex offender registration schemes – what this piece dubs super-registration schemes – are not. Their emergence over the last several years demands reexamination of traditionally held assumptions that shaped the original legislation.

Two intertwined causes are responsible for the schemes’ constitutional downfall. The first is a legislative body eager to draft increasingly harsh registration and notification schemes to please an electorate that subsists on a steady diet of fear. When combined with the second cause, a Supreme Court that has yet to signal much needed boundaries, the ensuing consequence is runaway legislation that is no longer rationally connected to its regulatory purpose. Ultimately, this article is a cautionary tale of legislation that has unmoored from its constitutional grounding because of its punitive effect and excessive reach.

Download the paper



Join the discussion

  1. Agamemnon

    Again I say, a registry may be administrative, but laws targeting those on the registry are absolutely punitive (and unconditional).

  2. James

    Thx for this article. I’ve always wondered where all this began. I will post more comments after reading this.

  3. Tim L

    What this author names ‘super-regulation schemes’ is a fancy name for what was formerly called the General warrant. The general warrant lacks the specific identification of a law broken. Instead our federal legislature decided to enact the Whetterling act, part of the 94OMNIBUS, by which it imposed threats of withholding Byrne grant moneys to each state if a state chose not to comply. Naturally, all 50 states complied.

    Good ideas do not need coercion to promote implement. That the Feds used the tactic of financial coercions, clearly underlines their wayward thinking. It also identifies that something else is s afoot here, that is to say another motivation is in play. I believe that other thing is the political advantages of maintaining databases for security of the two party system.

    • It doesn’t work

      Oh Tim, you know that other thing is a place they can give a job to their political contributors. Or that contributors son or wife or daughters fiancé, Don’t you?

  4. kind of living HR 645

    Its plain to see what its for , there is a lot of information that shows where they are going with it , and you will find that in the worst of the worst history

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