By Chad Frey
The future of sex offender registries could be in doubt — something that does not sit well with local law enforcement and child advocates.
"It is important to know where they live, especially if you have kids or want to open a daycare," said T. Walton, Harvey County Sheriff.
The American Civil Liberties Union this week urged the Kansas Supreme Court to uphold a judge's ruling removing a child molester's name from the state's offender registry, arguing that the list undermines public safety by making it more difficult for criminals to reintegrate into a community.
The idea that the list undermines public safety does not sit well with Donovon Graber, director of the Heart-2-Heart Child Advocacy Center of Newton.
"If we have another way to protect kids, this may not be an issue," Graber said. "The saying is 'your freedoms end where my rights begin.' Is the priority (anonymity of an offender) or protecting kids and people."
There are currently 124 registered offenders on the KBI registry — including violent and drug offenders — in Harvey County. The list contains 72 registered sex offenders. In addition, RAIDS Online — a recently launched crime tracking website by Newton Police — shows the blocks offenders live in on a map of the city.
The group filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the high court to uphold the ruling, which found the registry is unconstitutional because it ostracizes offenders and requires them to remain registered longer than necessary.
"If it is hard for them to reintegrate, that is on them and the act they committed," Walton said. "This is about the protection of victims."
His take is in line with the National Center for Victims of Crime — which in a separate filing urged the state's highest court to overturn the decision, saying the justices' ultimate decision in the case will "profoundly affect" Kansas crime victims.
Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks granted the convicted child molester's request last year and concluded the law was punitive, meaning it was a punishment that couldn't be retroactively enforced under 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. The state appealed.
While the judge's ruling applied only to the 50-year-old Lenexa man who sued the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Johnson County Sheriff's Office, any ruling now by the Kansas Supreme Court on appeal would affect others on the registry whose reporting requirement was retroactively lengthened by a 2011 amendment to Kansas Offender Registration Act, or KORA.
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. Court documents do not identify him.
The ACLU argued in its filing that the state registry law has been greatly expanded since the man was convicted.
"Under the present version of KORA, the registration and notification procedures impose punitive restraints and affirmative disabilities on the sex offender which interfere with employment, housing, education, financial recovery, and leads to ostracism of the offender," the ACLU wrote.
The National Center for Victims of Crime argued in a filing Friday that the 2011 amendments Kansas registry law are meant to serve the legitimate public interest of safety by registering offenders, citing a study that found 27 percent of them are likely to reoffend. Its brief also cited a recent federal court decision in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals finding that registration of sex offenders is not punitive in nature and does not violate the prohibition against retroactive punishments in the U.S. Constitution.
Kansas 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 13,582 people now listed on the registry: 8,086 for sex crimes; 2,854 for drug offenses; and 2,642 for violent crimes, the KBI said Tuesday.
Walton said the original registry was only for sex offenders, and believes the registry has become too broad. A registry link from the Harvey County Sheriff's office lists 124 offenders.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.