Sex offense registration for life unconstitutional, says SC Supreme Court
By Meg Kinnard . . . South Carolina’s Supreme Court says a state law requiring sex offenders to register for life without prior judicial review is unconstitutional . . .
According to the FAQ section of the state’s registry website, an offender will only be removed from the registry if the offense is “reversed, overturned, or vacated on appeal and a final judgment has been rendered,” or if they were pardoned.
In 2010, a man named Dennis Powell was convicted for criminal solicitation of a minor.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, Investigators said he was in an internet chat room in 2008 and planned to meet a 12-year-old girl at a skating rink in Lexington, but he was actually talking to an undercover officer . . . Powell was arrested, indicted, plead guilty, served his time and probation, and received psychiatric treatment.
Powell was told at his sentencing he had to register as a sex offender for life and has done so for more than ten years now.
Two doctors said he was low-risk for re-offending, the court said.
In 2016, Powell filed a petition with Circuit Court saying that requiring him to register for the rest of his life was excessive and deprived him of due process and equal protection . . .
The state Supreme Court upheld the Circuit Court decision and said Powell should be taken off the registry immediately.
The Circuit Court agreed with him, but the State Law Enforcement Division appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court said it’s not constitutional to require offenders to register for the rest of their life without a chance to see if they are actually high risk to re-offend.
The ruling said, “The lifetime inclusion of individuals who have a low risk of re-offending renders the registry over-inclusive and dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement… Moreover, there is no evidence [that]… all sex offenders generally pose a high risk of re-offending.”
The Circuit Court also said that 1994 sex offender law didn’t allow for publishing the registry online.
But the Supreme Court did not uphold that part of this case, which means South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) can continue posting the registry on the internet.
The Court gave the General Assembly twelve months to rewrite the law and provide sex offenders a chance for judicial review . . .
Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said the ruling will likely not impact his county-level law enforcement operations much.
“The sex offender registry is very important to the safety and security of residents in our 46 counties,” Lewis said. “Many people rely on the registry to make decisions about where to live. Employers use it as well to check applicants to jobs. It’s an excellent opportunity to help protect citizens.” . . .
Justices called South Carolina’s sex offender law “the most stringent in the country.”