WICHITA — The attorney general urged the Kansas Supreme Court on Wednesday to overturn a district judge’s decision that allowed a child molester’s name to be removed from the state’s offender list.
The lengthy filing by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office outlines, for the first time publicly, the state’s arguments against the ruling last year by Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks. The judge ruled that the offender registry law was unconstitutional, saying it ostracizes offenders and requires them to remain registered longer than necessary.
The ruling applied to a 50-year-old Lenexa man who sued the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office seeking to end his registration requirement. However, a ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court would affect others on the registry whose reporting requirement was retroactively lengthened by a 2011 amendment to Kansas Offender Registration Act, or KORA.
Christopher M. Joseph, the Topeka attorney representing the Lenexa man, said a ruling by the high court could affect thousands of people. His client isn’t named in court documents.
“If the Supreme Court affirms the trial court’s decision, the KBI will be forced to reduce the registration periods for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of registrants whose constitutional rights are also being violated,” Joseph said Thursday in an email to The Associated Press.
The state law requires people convicted of certain sex, drug and violent crimes to register with law enforcement for between 15 years and life, depending on the severity of the crime. Kansas has 11,114 people now listed on the registry: 6,706 for sex crimes; 2,189 for drug offenses; and 2,219 for violent crimes, the KBI said Thursday.
The man at the center of the lawsuit pleaded guilty in 2003 to having indecent liberties with a child/touching in Johnson County. At the time, he was required to remain on the registry for 10 years.
But the Legislature amended the law in 2011, extending the length of time such offenders must be registered to 25 years. The state then told the man, now a married father, that the law applied retroactively – meaning he had to remain registered until 2028.
Hendricks concluded the law was punitive, meaning it was a punishment that couldn’t be retroactively enforced per the U.S. Constitution. The judge noted that the law requires offenders to register in person four times a year, pay a $20 fee each time and face a felony for failing to register.
In the state’s appeal, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Grunewald argued the law wasn’t punitive, but rather a law to protect the public. He said the penalty for failing to register was to ensure compliance not impose a punishment.
“Sex offenses are repugnant, and the risk of sex offense recidivism remains high – the Legislature chose to make sex offender registration a top priority,” Grunewald wrote in the appeal. “The choice does not represent a judgment that registration is punitive, only that compliance is a paramount goal.”
The state also argued that the judge erred in refusing to throw out affidavits from the man and his wife that recounted how their children would come home crying after being teased at school, after being told their father was a “bad man,” “pervert” or “pedophile.” The state contends most of that was hearsay, because the father had no personal knowledge of what his children’s classmates told them.
The state’s appeal also contends that the judge should not have considered research journals citing studies that confirmed offender registries cause significant employment and housing disadvantages.
Kansas also defended the public notification requirements. The law requires a notation of “RO” to be placed on the driver’s licenses of a registered offender, which the district court called a “visible badge of criminality.” It also requires law enforcement to notify the public about sex offenders in their vicinity, which the state contended advances the legitimate non-punitive purpose of public safety.
In addition, the appeal asked the Supreme Court to allow the man’s name to be released, saying the public has an interest in knowing the identity of the person challenging a law that requires him to register as a sex offender.
Joseph, the man’s attorney, objected.
“The apparent objective is to force Mr. Doe to dismiss his case in order to protect his family from renewed threats of violence and his property from further vandalism,” the lawyer said. “It is sad that our Attorney General has resorted to such a tactic.”