Hard Truths About Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act

Gavel depicting Michigan's Sex Offender Registry Act

Did you know that Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA) has been expanded recently and that it has resulted in most registrants having to register for life?

Any number of factors in your life will influence how you read the above sentence. If you are looking at it from the perspective of a concerned parent who is afraid their children might be in danger, you might be glad.

However, chances are good that you are fearful of what might happen to you if you have to register if you are reading this. You are right to be concerned.

How Michigan’s SORA Has Become Harsher Over Time

Patty Wetterling, the mother of Jacob Wetterling, a Minnesota boy who was abducted in 1989, became instrumental in the creation of the first sex offender registries during the long investigation into her son’s death.

At the time, there was almost no existing database to help police track down suspects.

Today’s registries are far from what Patty had in mind, and she now says they serve practically no purpose. However, people still use them.

More importantly, our governments still use them to control and, our district appellate court has said, retroactively punish offenders who are at low risk for reoffending.

Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act was enacted in 1994. It created the first database of convicted sex offenders. However, it was not public. It was a crime to reveal registry information, and you could be sued for treble damages if you did. ‘

If your name were on the registry, it would be there for 25 years, there were no regular reporting requirements. Furthermore, only limited public inspection of the database would be allowed.

Here are some examples of people who ended up on Michigan’s registry:

  • A man who robbed a fast-food restaurant in 1990. Because he threatened and struck the manager’s son, he was convicted of kidnapping. He never committed a sex offense.
  • A man who, as a teenager, had a relationship with a 14-year-old girl in 1996. He has no criminal record and has served and sustained injuries while in active military service.
  • A man who met his wife at an over-18 nightclub in 2005 when she was 15. They have two children, and he is periodically homeless due to the constraints of the new laws.

Six Amendments Since 1994

These are three of the “John Does” who have brought their case to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because amendments to the 1994 SORA law made mandatory life registration retroactive.

That meant that these men would never be free of the increasingly harsh restrictions put on convicted sex offenders.

Since 1994, the SORA has been amended six times, each time bringing more restrictions and less privacy for sex offenders. Everything about this law has expanded:

  • Categories of people required to register
  • Requirements for reporting
  • Public access to the database
  • Where registrants are allowed to live, work, and hang out,
  • How long their names stay on the registry.

Registrants’ names and photographs are included. In addition, they are required to pay an annual fee to keep their identities on the registry.

Good News

The good news is that the Sixth District U.S. Court Of Appeals decided SORA’s 2011 amendments, which made lifetime registry retroactive, was unconstitutional.

That court said these new rules constituted punishment, and are therefore not ordinances. Moreover, for the John Does who brought the case, there will be some relief.

Bringing it Home

If you are facing mandatory lifetime registration on Michigan’s sex offender registry, you are right to be concerned.

The effort and money you spend on an aggressive criminal defense attorney are well worth it, considering your whole life may change if you must register.

Don’t hesitate. Call my office today for your free initial consultation.

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