A federal judge declared that the Colorado Sex Offender Registry was unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause. While the decision only regarded the three plaintiffs in the case, it leaves the door open for others to pursue a similar decision using the case as a precedent.
“It is usually not a good idea for members of the public to be placed in positions to do their own policing, it’s a slippery slope,” said Barbara B. Koehler, lecturer for the MSU Denver criminal justice and criminology department.
According to the plaintiffs, the registry has placed undue hardship on those who are required to register. Especially as there is no evidence of any of the three who filed the suit were likely to engage in such actions again.
One of the plaintiffs, Arturo Vega, was prosecuted at the age of 13. After Vega’s probation was revoked, he was required to participate in sex offender treatment. After turning 18, his juvenile records were destroyed, though he was still on the registry. He applied twice to be removed from the registry, however, both requests were denied.
Both of the magistrates doubted his claims that he would not attempt to commit the crimes again. One even suggested that he undergo sex offender treatment, the same he had already undergone and passed, which was disputed in both cases.
This treatment is part of what was used to declare the registry an unfair punishment against the three plaintiffs. Each individual also suffered from difficulties finding and keeping employment and a place of residence, due to their names being on the registry.
However, the popular approval of the sex offender registry likely means that it will not suffer too much from this decision.
“This act was enacted to address public concerns, and so there will continue to be a strong public voice in support of the act,” Koehler said.
Even after hearing some of the issues that are endured by those on the registry, students remained convinced that the registry was necessary.
“I think that’s something that we need for protection,” said Hannah Patton, an MSU Denver student. “Especially as a woman, it’s something that it’s nice to know is out there.”
While Patton thought that sometimes the registry can go too far, she still felt it was necessary.
“In more extreme cases, I think there’s an absolute need for it,” she said.
Pedophilia was the main example of an extreme case that she provided, which is what two of the plaintiffs in the case were guilty of.
When confronted with the fact that people, like Vega, can end up on the registry due to actions as a child, MSU Denver student Cayman Forgacs thought that there should be more care when minors are placed on the registry.
“I just think it’s a maturity thing,” Forgacs said.
However, Forgacs was fairly adamant that once one grows older, they should be more careful in their behavior, as well as more responsible for it.
“You become more mature, you won’t make those decisions anymore,” Forgacs said.
While Koehler didn’t see this to be the beginning of the end of the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act, she did describe it as the opportunity for the laws to be changed.
“If our principles of justice determine that once someone has served their time for a crime the matter is closed, why do we as a society select this class of offenders, sexual offenders, to continue to be subject to possible public shaming and essentially a form of continued punishment for their crimes?” Koehler said.