WICHITA — The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday on whether to uphold a judge’s ruling that removed a convicted child molester’s name from the state’s offender registry — a case with implications for hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose listing requirements were retroactively lengthened.
This appeal hinges on whether the state’s highest court agrees with Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks’ finding that the retroactive application of the Kansas Offender Registration Act when the Legislature amended the law in 2011 violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “ex post facto,” or after-the-fact, punishments.
The justices must decide whether the amended registry law is an unconstitutional punishment or a permissible tool to protect public safety.
While the judge’s initial ruling applied only to the 51-year-old Lenexa man who sued the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, any Supreme Court ruling now would affect others on the registry whose reporting requirement was retroactively lengthened by a 2011 amendment to the state’s law. High courts in other states have struck down similar registration laws that have been found to be too excessive.
“If the Court concludes that the effect of today’s law is punitive, then the registration law at the time of a person’s conviction controls their registration requirements. That rationale would extend to everyone subject to KORA,” said Chris Joseph, the attorney representing the Lenexa man. “In short, many current registrants would presumably see their registration periods drop to 10 years or less.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the state’s registry law fully complies with the requirements of the Adam Wash Act, a 2006 federal law that set national standards for monitoring sex offenders.
“It is important that Kansans’ access to offender information continues to meet national standards and that our law be upheld to protect Kansas children,” he said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
State law requires people convicted of certain sex, drug and violent crimes to register with law enforcement for between 15 years and life, depending on the severity of the crime. As of August, Kansas has 13,582 people listed on the registry: 8,086 for sex crimes; 2,854 for drug offenses; and 2,642 for violent crimes.
The man at the center of the lawsuit pleaded guilty in 2003 to having indecent liberties with a child/touching in Johnson County. At the time, he was required to remain on the registry for 10 years. But the Legislature’s change to the law in 2011 extended the length of time such offenders must be registered to 25 years. The state then told the man, now a married father, that the law applied retroactively — meaning he had to remain registered until 2028.
Court documents identify him only as “John Doe,” and one of the issues on appeal is whether the judge erred in allowing him to proceed pseudonymously in the litigation.
Hendricks said the Kansas offender law was punitive, noting that its requirements have become increasingly severe and social media creates a virtual forum for “shaming.” It requires offenders to register in person four times a year and to pay a $20 fee each time or face a felony for failing to register. A notation of “R.O.” on their Kansas driver’s license identifies them as a registered offender.
The judge found the registry ostracizes offenders and requires them to remain registered longer than necessary. The state appealed.
Article by Roxana Hegeman – Topeka Capital-Journal