NOTE: since we posted this article the website blocked it with pay-only access
Dozens of people have scored legal wins against Tennessee’s sex offender registry law since federal judges ruled it violates constitutional protections against retroactive punishment. The situation could cost Tennessee taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
Judges have repeatedly ruled against the law, and a recent development has made it so those with convictions from more than 20 years ago can be removed in a matter of weeks if they can afford it.
How we got here
U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson first ruled in February 2021 that those who committed a qualifying crime before the registry’s creation by the General Assembly in 2004 were being subjected to punishment that didn’t exist when they were convicted, which violates the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution.
After that, the state continued to suffer losses in court.
Things reached a tipping point in March of this year, when District Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote in a decision that past rulings “definitely suggest” that “Tennessee’s policy of continuing to apply the Act to other individuals who committed pre-enactment offenses is unconstitutional.”
The state of Tennessee appealed Trauger’s decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March, arguing that placement on the sex offender registry is not punitive and thus not unconstitutional.