D.C.: Sex Offender Law Struck Down.
September 23, 2001
Judge Orders Police to Stop Publicizing Information About Released Perpetrators
By Spencer S. Hsu
A federal judge has ruled that the District's method of classifying sex
offenders under "Megan's Law" is unconstitutional and has told police to stop
releasing detailed information about 279 sex offenders and cease registering
certain sex offenders who committed crimes while younger than 22.
The law, similar to those passed in all 50 states, is named for Megan Kanka,
a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and strangled in 1994 by a
twice-convicted sex offender in her neighborhood. It requires that the public
be notified when sex offenders are released into the community.
But U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said the District's method of
deciding how widely to publicize the names, photographs and home and work
addresses of offenders -- sorting them into three classes of offenses --
violates their due process rights because they are not granted court hearings
or the opportunity to argue whether notification is necessary to protect the
Laws in other states assess offenders individually, rather than by the type
of sex crimes they committed.
Huvelle's ruling, released Wednesday, still requires sex offenders who are
released from prison to register with the District's parole agency for 10
years to life, depending on the severity of their crimes. But the judge
enjoined the District from publicizing that information, whether by answering
inquiries, releasing registration lists at police stations, posting names on
the Internet or notifying schools, day-care centers, victims or other
"While the government unquestionably has a valid and laudable interest in
protecting the public, and in particular our youth, from being victimized,"
Huvelle wrote, "the beneficence of its aims [does] not excuse it from
according to the offenders subject to the statute the due process protections
to which they are entitled under the constitution."
Huvelle's ruling applies to at least 279 offenders who lived in the District
as of March 27.
Under the District law, three classes of sex offenders existed: 119 offenders
were classified as Class A, 149 were Class B and 11 were Class C. All were
listed on a police registry available to the public.
Class A offenders committed sex abuse, rape or murder or were determined to
be sexual psychopaths. They were subject to the most widespread public
notice, including notification to neighborhood schools and vulnerable groups
and publication on the Internet.
Class B offenders committed offenses against minors, wards, patients or
clients, and their names were published on the Internet before Huvelle issued
a temporary restraining order to the city in February to halt that practice.
Class C offenders committed other sex offenses and were deemed less likely to
commit future offenses.
Despite the Wednesday order, the D.C. police sex offender registry, at
www.mpdc.dc.gov/serv/sor/sexoffender.shtm, still showed the names and
addresses of 146 offenders yesterday.
Arabella W. Teal, principal deputy corporation counsel for the District, said
yesterday that the office was aware of the ruling but was not prepared to
comment on it. A spokesman for the office said that an appeal was possible.
The case was filed on behalf of five offenders by the D.C. public defender's
office, which argued that the plaintiffs were subject to stigma, legal
burdens and loss of privacy and employment prospects disproportionate to the
likelihood that they would commit a new offense.
"The judge ruled that the District cannot cut corners and deem all offenders
dangerous without individual assessment and giving people hearings," said
Robert L. Wilkins, formerly with the public defender's office and now in
private practice. "We had offenders who had been deemed rehabilitated by the
system, yet they were still being labled dangerous by the statute."
The judge also said that under sentencing reforms passed last year, people
with convictions for sex offenses committed before Aug. 5, 2000, and set
aside by the D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act -- which permits some people
younger than 22 to have convictions set aside once they complete their
sentences -- do not fall under the city's Megan's Law. That ruling applied to
two of the plaintiffs in the case.
Two were found not guilty by reason of insanity for separate assaults in 1969
and 1982 and were sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital. The fifth plaintiff
pleaded guilty last year to lewd acts with a 15-year-old boy. His term of
five years of supervised probation was terminated early after he received
treatment, Wilkins said.
Source: © 2001 The Washington Post Company