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September 11, 2008

Federal judge finds constitutional problems with new Nevada sex offender laws

As detailed in this AP report and this ACLU of Nevada press release, a federal judge in Nevada on Thursday issued an injunction to preclude some enforcement of new sex offender laws.  Here are details from the AP story:

U.S. District Judge James Mahan said the laws, as applied to 12 sex offenders represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, are unconstitutional. Mahan declined to rule on whether the new laws, which change the way Nevada classifies sex offenders, may be applied to those convicted of sex offenses in the future.

The ACLU of Nevada said the new laws, AB579 and SB471, drastically altered the way in which Nevada deals with sex offenders.... Many rehabilitated, low-risk offenders would have retroactively become high-risk offenders "subject to widespread community notification, which in turn would have meant that they and their families faced social ostracism, losing their jobs, and even possible vigilante violence," the ACLU said. "Judge Mahan's ruling makes very clear that the Constitution applies to everybody," ACLU attorney Maggie McLetchie said. "What this case is really about is a limit on the powers of government."

Deputy Attorney General Binu Palal, who had argued for the retroactive application of the laws, said after Mahan's decision that the state respected the ruling, adding, "We will review our options after we see the order."

The federal judge's decision follows the Nevada Supreme Court's recent decision not to rule on the constitutionality of AB579, which states that teenage sex offenders can be punished as adults. The state high court dismissed appeals of Clark County prosecutors who argued in 21 cases that the youths, who were 14 years old and older and had committed sexual acts, had to register as sex offenders. Prosecutors appealed after Clark County Family Court Judge William Voy held that part of the 2007 law was invalid. He said there was no rational basis for setting the age at 14....

The 2007 Legislature patterned AB579, after the 2006 federal Adam Walsh Act that included many teenage sex offenders age 14 and older with adults in requirements for sex offender registration and community notification. The federal law, named for a six-year-old who was abducted from a Florida shopping mall in 1981 and later found slain, cut off certain grant funds to states unless they included in their registries juveniles who committed sex offenses when they were as young as 14.

The AP story suggests that the Nevada law found constitutionally problematic was passed in direct response to the federal Adam Walsh Act.  As a result, this ruling by Judge Mahan could have significant national implications and could become a lot more than just be a local story.

September 11, 2008 at 04:09 PM | Permalink

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