By Anne Burt
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that posting information about sex offenders on the Internet is constitutional, even if the offender is no longer in prison or on parole.
Utah”s sex offender registry gives information including the offender”s picture, name, address, age, automobiles driven, crime and target victims. Utah”s registry keeps offenders listed 10 years after the offender”s parole is complete. If the offender repeats the crime, his or her name stays on the registry for life.
“Parents need to know who”s in the neighborhood,” said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General”s office. “They need to protect their children.”
Utah”s Attorney General”s office sent court briefs to the Supreme Court in support of the sex offender registry.
According to a news release, the briefs argue the registry does not violate the offenders freedom. They also state the registry is public information.
The Supreme Court ruling involved claims from two states: Alaska and Connecticut.
Alaskan sex offenders claimed registering their names and updating their information several times each year punished them repeatedly for a crime they already served. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the registry was not penalizing the sex offenders. The registry is available strictly for public safety, the Court ruled.
Connecticut offenders said registering their names was unconstitutional without a hearing to establish if they are likely to re-offend. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the claim. The registry requirement is based on previous conviction, not current dangerousness.
Murphy said the records of convicted sex offenders are public records because sex offenders tend to be repeat offenders. In a 25-year national study, Murphy said 52 percent of convicted sex offenders are repeat offenders. Murphy also added convicted sex offenders average two reported offenses, but admit to an average of 184 victims.
The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling.
“The government should not be allowed to publicly brand people as dangerous and deny them the opportunity to prove they are not,” said Dani Eyer, spokeswoman for the Utah ACLU.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “However plain it may be that a former sex offender currently poses no threat of recidivism, he will remain subject to long-term monitoring and inescapable humiliation.”
Public harassment of sex offenders on the registry happens more than it should, said Jack Ford, public information officer for the Department of Corrections.
Ford said one sex offender has moved three times because his victim tracks him down and then posts fliers on telephone polls and on the doors of all of the neighborhood telling them a sex offender has moved into the area. Ford said he could name at least 15 people who have similar problems.
Utah”s first sex offender registry started in 1983. The information was available to the public by written requests to the Department of Correction. Ford said gathering information for one request took hours and hundreds of pieces of paper. The registry moved to the Internet in 1998, Ford said.
Roughly 6,400 names are available on Utah”s sex offender registry, Ford said. Those names include people who are in prison, on parole or probation.
Ford said the ten-year period begins when an offender is off probation. Depending on the sentence and probation time, having a name on the registry can be as long as 30 years, Ford said.
Utah”s registry can be found at http://www.cr.ex.state.ut.us/community/sexoffenders/