The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that the state's sex offender registry violates an offender's due process rights by not providing a means by which the offender can demonstrate that he or she is not a threat to public safety.
In the ruling issued Friday, the court also upheld a lower court's decision validating an Alaska law requiring that a person who is required to register as a sex offender in another state must register as a sex offender in Alaska upon moving to the state.
On the matter of an offender's due process rights, the court, in a 3-2 decision, said an offender must be given an opportunity to prove he or she has rehabilitated and is no longer a public threat.
The court stopped short, however, of ruling the state's sex offender registry unconstitutional. The ruling noted "serious drawbacks to invalidating" the law, known as the Alaska Sex Offender Registry Act.
"The structure of ASORA would be temporarily taken down. All sex offenders would be exempt from registration and re-registration requirements, and the internet registry would go dark. The public safety benefits of ASORA would be lost until the Act was replaced," the ruling reads. "Further, when the replacement Act became effective,there would be new and potentially complex questions of the permissible retroactivity of the new Act.
"In our view, these negative factors counsel against holding ASORA to be invalid," the ruling reads.
The case involves a man, listed in the ruling as the generic John Doe, convicted of aggravated sexual battery in 2000 in Virginia. He was sentenced to five years in prison, with all of that time suspended, and five years probation. He was also required to register in Virginia as a sex offender.
The man moved to Alaska in January 2003 and registered in the state as a sex offender. In April of that year the Department of Public Safety informed him he had to register annually in January, and the man did so for 2004 and 2005.
In February 2005, the department informed him had to register quarterly for life as long as he remained in Alaska, noting that his Virginia conviction had "essentially the same elements" as first-degree sexual assault in Alaska, which requires the quarterly registration.
The man at that point ceased registering with the state and in 2007 was convicted of second-degree failure to register as a sex offender.
The man sued the state in 2016, claiming the state had no authority to require him to register and that the Alaska law violated his due process rights.
The Supreme Court ruled that the law can apply to residents convicted in other states and who move to Alaska, but it sought a remedy to the due process question without having to invalidate the law.
"The alternative we choose is to permit Doe to file a civil action in the superior court in which he will be permitted to attempt to prove that he no longer poses a risk to the public that justifies continued registration," the ruling reads. "If he prevails, he should be relieved of the requirements of registration. If he does not, he must comply with the Act. However, after a reasonable time, he may be permitted to file a new complaint, again seeking relief from the requirements of the Act based on a showing of changed circumstances.
"The hearing remedy narrows ASORA and saves it from a ruling declaring it to be unconstitutional on the grounds urged in this case."
Contact Editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor.