For the first time since the first Megan’s law was passed in New Jersey in 1994, the US Supreme Court will consider two appeals to sex offender registration requirements now in effect in all 50 states. While these laws were passed to help protect against the most egregious of crimes – the Justice Department estimates that the number of people imprisoned for sex crimes grew at a faster rate than any other category of crime from 1980 to 1994 – others claim that they violate constitutional rights of due process, double jeopardy, and privacy.
On Nov. 13, the Supreme Court will consider appeals brought against Connecticut and Alaska. The Connecticut case challenges the state’s decision to publish the whereabouts of all sex offenders without first making an assessment of the “potential dangerousness” of the offender. Connecticut is one of 25 states that take this approach. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered the Internet site that publishes this information shut down until the state offers individual hearings on each offenders’ dangerousness, according to the New York Times.
Meanwhile, the two plaintiffs in the Alaska case argue that because they completed their criminal sentences before the law was passed in 1994 – the requirement that they now publicize their whereabouts amounts to a new punishment. The Supreme Court’s ruling on this case will be watched closely by states such as New Jersey, where a challenge to that state’s law is currently before a federal appeals court on the grounds that it violates the right to privacy and imposes double jeopardy. The double jeopardy argument would be considered invalid if the Supreme Court rules that the law is regulatory rather than punitive, according to the Times.