The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that a federal trial court erred when it dismissed a case involving 134 registrants in Idaho who claimed that the state’s sex offender laws violated their civil rights. In its ruling today, the Court opened up the possibility that the Idaho laws at issue violated both the federal and state constitutions.
One of the claims in the case is that the state’s sex offender laws violate the ex post facto provision of the U. S. Constitution. Many of the state laws at issue, including a requirement to register for life, were passed after the registrants were convicted. The state argued in the case that several cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision Smith v. Doe which determined that the requirement to register is not punitive, allow the state to pass new sex offender laws and apply them retroactively.
In today’s decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated “case law does not foreclose a finding that SORA is punitive.” The Court pointed out that Smith v. Doe and other cases cited by the state government “only considered registration and notification provisions…none of these cases considered retroactively applied residency, travel, or employment restrictions.”
“We are encouraged by today’s decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” stated ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci. “While today’s decision does not mean that retroactive state laws regarding residency, travel, and employment will ultimately be determined to be punitive, it allows for that possibility.”
Another claim in the case is that Iowa sex offender laws restrict registrants from attending houses of worship in violation of both state and federal law. Specifically, state law prohibits registrants from attending a church that is also used as a school due to “the proximity of a school.” The Court found that the registrants properly challenged this state law and its substantial burden to the exercise of their religious beliefs.
In addition to overturning the trial court’s dismissal of the registrants’ two claims described above, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also decided that the trial court erred in its decision to dismiss registrants’ claims regarding the Eighth Amendment and double jeopardy. As a result of today’s decision, this case will return to the federal district court that dismissed it. A future decision by that court is not expected for at least 12 months.