South Carolina’s Lifelong Sex Offender Registry Found Unconstitutional

South Carolina’s Supreme Court found the requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) — A South Carolina law requiring sex offenders to appear on a registry for life is unconstitutional, the state’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

“The lifetime inclusion of individuals who have a low risk of re-offending renders the registry over-inclusive and dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement,” wrote Chief Justice Donald Wayne Beatty in a ruling on Wednesday.

Beatty said in the 13-page ruling that, although the court found that the state has a legitimate interest in requiring sex offender registration and that such registration is constitutional, the requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process.

A statute in South Carolina law requires biannual, in-person registration at a sheriff’s office, but does not provide periodic review by a judge.

The rule is arbitrary, Beatty said, and “cannot be deemed rationally related to the General Assembly’s stated purpose of protecting the public from those with a high risk of re-offending.”

The Palmetto State’s highest court released its unanimous decision in response to a request by Dennis Powell Jr. to be removed from the lifelong registry. 

Powell was arrested for criminal solicitation of a minor in 2008 for engaging in anonymous internet chatroom conversations, which were “graphically sexual in nature,” according to Thursday’s ruling.

An undercover police officer posed as a 12-year-old girl as part of an online sting operation and eventually arranged to meet Powell at a skating rink. On his way, Powell was pulled over by law enforcement officers and arrested.

After he pled guilty to the charges, Powell was sentenced to serve two years in prison and to appear on the sex offender registry for life. 

The judges on Wednesday ordered that Powell, who had served his time, be immediately removed from the registry as he “no longer poses a risk.”

“There is no evidence in the record that current statistics indicate all sex offenders generally pose a high risk of re-offending,” Beatty wrote, adding, “Because SORA does not provide a mechanism to evaluate a registrant’s individual risk of recidivism, it ‘is not tied to the relative public safety risk presented by the particular registrants and is excessive with respect to the purpose for which it was enacted.'” 

The changes established by the state’s Supreme Court will take effect in 12 months in order for state lawmakers to address the lack of judicial review for offenders. 

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