“The Evolution of Unconstitutionality in Sex Offender Registration Laws”


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The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Professor Catherine Carpenter, which is now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

More is not always better.  Consider sex offender registration laws.  Initially anchored by rational basis, registration schemes have spiraled out of control because legislators, eager to please a fearful public, have been given unfettered freedom by a deferential judiciary.

This particular article does not challenge the state’s legislative power to enact sex offender registration laws.  Instead, this piece posits that, even if sex offender registration schemes were initially constitutional, serially amended sex offender registration schemes — what this piece dubs super-registration schemes — are not.  Their emergence over the last several years demands reexamination of traditionally held assumptions that shaped the original legislation.

Two intertwined causes are responsible for the schemes’ constitutional downfall.  The first is a legislative body eager to draft increasingly harsh registration and notification schemes to please an electorate that subsists on a steady diet of fear.  When combined with the second cause, a Supreme Court that has yet to signal much needed boundaries, the ensuing consequence is runaway legislation that is no longer rationally connected to its regulatory purpose.  Ultimately, this article is a cautionary tale of legislation that has unmoored from its constitutional grounding because of its punitive effect and excessive reach.

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