U.S. Court of Appeals Affirms Unconstitutionality of Connecticut's Sex Offender Website Law

October 19, 2001 12:00 am

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HARTFORD — The Connecticut Civil Liberties Union today applauded an appeals court decision saying that the state’s sex offender registry law “fails to accommodate the constitutional rights” of persons formerly convicted of a wide range of sexual offenses because they had not been given the chance to show they were not a threat to the community.

The CCLU had filed a class action lawsuit, Doe v. Lee, on behalf of a group of people who said they were unfairly stigmatized as dangerous sex offenders when they were forced to register under the law.

“The appeals court’s opinion is another reminder that, in their desire to protect the public, legislators cannot ignore basic constitutional protections,” said Philip Tegeler, legal director of the CCLU.

The U.S. Court of Appeals held today that the sex offender law violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights because it labels registrants as probably currently dangerous, and forces them to comply with burdensome registration restrictions, without giving them an opportunity to show they are not dangerous and ought not to have to register.

Last March, the United States District Court agreed with the CCLU’s argument that these people were denied due process. In May, the district court ordered that public access to the registry cease, and the sex offender web site be shut down, because Connecticut lawmakers had failed to provide basic constitutional protections. Law enforcement however continues to have access to the registry.

“If the state wants to have this kind of registration law, it needs to observe basic due process and give non-dangerous individuals a way to opt out of the listing,” said Shelley R. Sadin, a CCLU cooperating attorney from the law firm Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in Bridgeport.

In its decision today, the Court of Appeals wrote:

“We are keenly aware of the legitimate and pressing importance that the Connecticut legislature attaches to the State’s ability to disseminate information about former sex offenders, principally in order to protect the health and welfare of the State’s children. The particular legislative instrument it has chosen to employ, however, is too blunt properly to achieve that end. It fails to accommodate the constitutional rights of persons formerly convicted of a wide range of sexual offenses who are branded as likely to be currently dangerous offenders irrespective of whether or not they are. We therefore affirm.”

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