91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

ACLU sues state over "unconstitutional" sex offender registry, again

Ryan Grimes
Michigan Radio

The ACLU of Michigan is once again suing the state over what it calls unconstitutional aspects of the sex offender registry law.

The civil rights group has successfully sued the state over the issue before. Those court decisions forced the state legislature to change some aspects of the law in 2021.

But ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman said the legislature didn’t do enough, and the new law is still unconstitutional. She said the new lawsuit is largely focused on one issue: the fact that registered sex offenders can’t remove themselves from the registry, regardless of the nature of their offense.

“Dying should not be the only way that you can come off the registry,” Aukerman said. “Right now, what we have is a system that keeps people on the registry, the vast majority of them for life, regardless of their circumstances. It’s a very modest ask. It’s just basic, fundamental fairness. It won’t address the fundamental problem with the registry, which is that it’s counterproductive.”

Aukerman and experts the ACLU have brought onboard argue it’s counterproductive because being a sex offender registry prevents people from getting housing, employment, and support, making them more likely to re-offend. They also argue that the registry itself is an ineffective tool for preventing sex crimes and sexual abuse.

About 75% of registered sex offenders in Michigan are on the registry for life. Michigan currently has about 45,000 people on the registry, one of the largest in the country.

Aukerman said the lawsuit seeks individual consideration for each offender, saying not providing that violates due process and equal protection rights. The ACLU provided some examples of clients whose cases they say warrant relief:

John Doe A: Mr. Doe A was never accused, charged or convicted of a sex offense. Rather, he pled guilty to armed robbery and weapons charges for robbing his former employer (a McDonald’s) after he thought he was unjustly fired. He also pled no contest to kidnapping for forcing the manager and her teenage son into the building to open a safe. After serving 19 years in prison, Mr. Doe A was paroled in 2009. He's since worked as a vocational coach for special-needs adults and now runs an asbestos abatement business. Even though he never committed a sex crime, he is required to register as a sex offender for life because of the kidnapping. There is no mechanism in SORA to remove Mr. Doe A from the registry other than for him to die. 

Mary Roe: At age 19, when Ms. Mary Roe was homeless and addicted to drugs. She had sex with a 14-year-old who associated with her group of homeless teens and was convicted of third degree criminal sexual conduct. She served two-and-a-half years in prison, where she straightened herself out. Since her release she has earned a Masters Degree in Counseling, married, and never faced further charges of any kind. She is now a therapist, helping others, including survivors of sexual assault and abusive relationships. She was due to come off SORA at age 45, but the 2011 SORA amendments retroactively extended her time on the registry from 25 years to life. There is no mechanism in SORA to remove Ms. Mary Roe from the registry unless she dies. 

John Doe C: When 23 years old, Mr. Doe C had sex with a girl he met at an 18 and older club. He thought she was an adult, but she’d used a fake ID to get in and was actually 15. Mr. Doe C was convicted of third degree criminal sexual conduct, and initially put on the registry for 25 years until age 49. However, the 2011 SORA amendments retroactively extended his registration to life. Mr. Doe C is now married to the woman he met at the club, and they have three children together. There is no mechanism to remove him from the registry unless he dies. 

As for going back to court over an issue that has now been litigated for a decade, Aukerman admitted “there’s a bit of a Groundhog’s Day quality to this.”

“The legislators know that the courts have again and again and again held this unconstitutional,” she said. “And yet this is just more of the same. I don't really know what it will take for people to understand that we cannot go on with this bloated, ineffective, counterproductive, unconstitutional system.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Related Content