Posted: Feb 10, 2021 / 4:31 am CSTUpdated: February 10, 2021 / 4:31 am CST
A judge’s gavel is shown on a file photo. (Photo credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A federal judge ruled that portions of the Tennessee Sex Offender Registration Act should not apply retrospectively to two offenders sued under the act.
Monday’s decision in the US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee was narrow and only applied to the two plaintiffs. But it could open the door to more lawsuits and a broader decision in the future.
US District Judge Eli Richardson found that parts of the law violate the ex post facto clause of the US Constitution, which prevents people from being punished with a law passed after their crime has been committed. To determine a violation, Richardson had to find that parts of the law were punishable. He analyzed the specific circumstances of the two plaintiffs, identified only as John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2, and found that parts of the law served as punishment in the two men’s cases.
According to the court, John Doe # 1 was convicted in 1994 of two cases of attempted severe sexual battery for which he received a five-year suspended sentence. John Doe # 2 was convicted in 2000 of three cases of sexual violence against a child aged 12 years or younger and given six years probation.
Under current law, both have to register with the state as sex offenders. They are also faced with restrictions on where they can live and work, including reporting in person to law enforcement on a regular basis.
Plaintiffs alleged the legal restrictions forced them to move out of their own homes and lose jobs, and prevented them from spending time with their children and attending school events.
Richardson has not yet made a specific decision as to which parts of the law should not apply to the two men. In his decision, he asked the parties for more information on what they thought the scope of the injunction should be. He added that he would rule later.
Richardson ruled in favor of the state on one issue. He said that part of the law that requires criminals to provide information about their online activities to law enforcement agencies does not, at first glance, appear to be a violation of the First Amendment’s right to freedom of expression. However, Richardson noted that the law “is confusing and unclear what is required of registrants”.