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State's sex offender list unchanged, despite federal ruling

Names remain on Web as case goes through courts

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2001

A ruling last week by a federal appeals court did not immediately affect a list of convicted sex offenders posted on the Internet by the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

If the state appeals the ruling, the list could stay intact for awhile, said assistant attorney general Eric Johnson. It's possible the ruling ultimately will have little affect even if the state loses future appeals. Or the decision could wipe out more than half the names on the list, Johnson said, adding state attorneys are analyzing the decision.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday an Alaska law requiring sex offenders to routinely register with the state goes too far because it applies to some people convicted before the law passed in 1994. The court rejected a provision requiring sex offenders convicted between 1984 and 1994 to register, which includes about 1,400 of 2,200 people on the list. The state posts names, photographs and addresses of convicted sex offenders on the Internet so the public can track their whereabouts.

The federal appeals court sent the case back to a lower court, which could issue an injunction prohibiting the state from posting names of sex offenders convicted before 1994, said Johnson, the state attorney. However, it appears an injunction would apply only to the two convicted sex offenders who challenged the state law - not to the 1,400 other people on the list, he said.

"The ruling only applies to the named plaintiffs," Johnson said. "Presumably the terms of that injunction would only require the state to remove the names of those folks and not require them to register."

The rest of the names likely would stay on the list at least until the state goes through the appeals process. If it ultimately lost on appeal, the state would then decide whether to apply the federal court ruling to all sex offenders convicted between 1984 and 1994, he said. The state could choose to apply it only to the two plaintiffs, but Johnson speculated it probably would remove all 1,400 names.

The state hasn't decided whether to appeal, but if it challenges the ruling, it can first petition the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals again and request a larger panel of judges to review the case, said Johnson, noting the state has until Friday to file such an appeal. If the state loses again, it can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Advocates for abused women and children were disappointed with the ruling, which essentially concluded the plaintiffs were wrongly subjected to additional punishment after they were convicted.

"We didn't believe that it was punitive," said Lauree Hugonin, executive director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Juneau. "We disagreed with a lot of their (judges') conclusions."

An attorney for one of the plaintiffs applauded the decision, saying the law exposes reformed sex offenders to excessive punishment.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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