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SAN FRANCISCO - An Alaska law goes too far in requiring some sex offenders to register their whereabouts four times a year for life, a federal appeals court has ruled. The ruling throws out the registration requirement for nearly two thirds of Alaska sex offenders.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday the burden is too harsh for sex offenders who were convicted before the Alaska Legislature passed the law in 1994.
That legislation, modeled after New Jersey's pioneering "Megan's Law," lets the public track whether a neighbor is a known sex offender. It requires lesser sex offenders to register annually for 15 years after their conviction, and more serious offenders to register every three months until they die.
All 50 states have some version of a sex offenders law.
Alaska posts the names,
photographs and details of convicted sex offenders on the World Wide Web. There are about 2,200 registered sex offenders in Alaska, said assistant attorney general Eric Johnson, about 1,400 of whom were convicted before 1994.
"The act is far more sweeping than necessary to serve its alternate purpose, promoting public safety," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the published opinion. "An offender cannot escape the act's grasp no matter how demonstrable it may be that he poses no future risk to anyone."
The San Francisco court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it was applied to sex offenders convicted between 1984 and 1994 - in other words, adding an extra penalty for people after they were convicted. That judgment reversed a ruling by a federal District Court in Anchorage.
"The court seemingly has decided that the law is overly inclusive by not allowing individuals to demonstrate that they are not dangerous," said John La Fond, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City who follows sex offender registration law. "The plaintiffs have demonstrated that this law exposes them to serious harm in the community and thereby inflicts additional punishment on them."
Last week, a federal judge struck down Connecticut's sexual offender registry law on similar grounds.
Verne Rupright, a lawyer for one of two convicted sex offenders who sued Alaska, said the legislation exposes reformed sex offenders to excessive punishment.
"Next thing you know, the guy's got the brand on him, the scarlet letter," Rupright said. "(Take) a guy who's back in his community and is doing okey-dokey ... Next thing he knows, he's registering four times a year for life. How does he ever get a repose, how does he get clear?"
The Alaska case involved a man convicted in 1985 of sexually abusing his 9-year-old daughter and a man convicted of sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl in 1984. Both completed their prison sentences, but under the 1994 law were required to register as sex offenders.
Johnson, the Alaska assistant attorney general, said the state is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 9th Circuit governs federal courts in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.
The full ruling and the Alaska Sex Offender Registry are on the Web through Hot Links on our juneauempire.com frontpage.