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Federal judge clarifies how to enforce changes to Michigan's sex offender registry

court gavel
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement should have more clarity about how to enforce Michigan’s Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA) after an opinion and order today from a district court judge.

Michigan recently enacted a new version of SORA in response to litigation challenging the constitutionality of parts of the law, and a February 2020 order from Judge Robert Cleland finding aspects of the old version of SORA unconstitutional.

In his opinion Monday, Cleland suggested that people accused of violating unconstitutional aspects of the old SORA should not be prosecuted for those violations – an important distinction because Cleland also found that the new version of SORA enacted in March does not apply retroactively. A final order in the case is expected soon.

Miriam Aukerman, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing plaintiffs in the case, says there’s been confusion among law enforcement as to which SORA requirements are enforceable because of the complex manner of the litigation and temporary changes made effective during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan. She says Monday’s opinion should give law enforcement and prosecutors more clarity about how to enforce the law.

Specifically, the new SORA got rid of language in the law regarding so-called “school safety zones” and rules prohibiting registered sex offenders from living, working or loitering within a thousand feet of those areas. The new law also eliminated previous in-person reporting requirements for registrants who changed email or street addresses and vehicle information. The Detroit News reported the new law also requires registered sex offenders to be removed from the Public Sex Offender Registry if their crime is expunged.  

Cleland found the school safety zone provisions in the old law were unconstitutionally vague, and the immediate in-person reporting requirements under the old law were void under the first amendment. And the court found that the Michigan State Police should be required to provide notice of the relief granted in the court’s order to all SORA registrants.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan doesn’t think Michigan’s new SORA is constitutional either, but resolving any disputes regarding the new law would require the filing of a new lawsuit.

The ACLU says Michigan’s sex offender registry is a "bloated and ineffective system" that doesn’t keep families safe”. Aukerman, says Michigan’s current Sex Offender Registration Act treats every registered sex offender the same, regardless of the details in any particular case, and that the system levies onerous lifetime reporting requirements on registrants. She declined to further outline the ACLU’s legal strategy for a potential future lawsuit.

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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