Federal judge rules parts of Michigan's sex offender registry law unconstitutional

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DETROIT — Parts of Michigan's sex offender registry law are unconstitutional, including a requirement that offenders stay at least 1,000 feet from schools, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland struck down several reporting requirements of the 1994 law, which has been amended several times by state lawmakers to tighten requirements, the Detroit Free Press reported (http://on.freep.com/1JjFEHr ) this week.

Cleland said offenders have to guess about school safety zones and aren't provided with enough information to follow the law. He also struck down a mandate that offenders report new email and instant messaging addresses in person and notify authorities of all telephone numbers they routinely use.

The vagueness of the law "leaves law enforcement without adequate guidance to enforce the law and leaves registrants of ordinary intelligence unable to determine when the reporting requirements are triggered," Cleland wrote in a ruling dated March 31.

The state and law enforcement officials said they are reviewing the decision.

"We are aware of the ruling," Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police, said in an email. "We have reviewed it with the attorney general's office to determine its immediate impact on our practices, and we are currently working to make necessary changes to come into compliance.

"We will also be working with the Legislature to clarify portions of the act that need addressing."

The lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan against Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan State Police Director Kriste Etue, on behalf of six Michigan residents who are convicted sex offenders. The University of Michigan's Clinical Law Program also participated.

The offenders argued that the law and its many amendments are impossible to follow. Some of those who sued are parents and grandparents and say the rule, including the restriction that they not loiter near a school, prevents them from participating in their children's education.

ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman, who worked on the case, said the judge sent a strong message that the law wasn't working properly and the Legislature needs to consider an overhaul.

"The law is so confusing that even a well-intentioned registrant can't follow it," Aukerman said. "We found that even the police don't know what the law is."


Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

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