Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Doe v. Keathley

Opinion handed down June 16, 2009. [1]
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion

I. Introduction

The Missouri Supreme Court held that the federal Sexual Offenders Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) imposes an independent obligation on sex offenders living in Missouri to register, even if they would not been required to register under state law.

II. Facts and Holding

Several Missouri residents who were required under state law to register as sex offenders filed a declaratory judgment action in the circuit court of Jackson County asserting that section 589.400 of the Missouri Revised Statutes (Supp. 2007) violated the Missouri state constitution’s bar on the passage of laws that are retrospective in operation.[2] The circuit court granted summary judgment for the sex offenders.[3] On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that, irrespective of any state constitutional bar on registration, SORNA imposes an independent obligation mandating that the respondents register on the Missouri sex offender list.[4]

III. Legal Background

Missouri enacted the first version of its sex offender registry law (Megan’s Law) in 1994, and it became effective on January 1, 1995.[5] The purpose of the legislation was to “‘protect children from violence at the hands of sex offenders and respond to the known danger of recidivism among sex offenders.”[6] The current version of Missouri’s Megan’s Law is codified in Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 589.400 to 589.425. The law requires affected individuals to register with designated authorities and to notify authorities whey they change their residence.[7] Since its enactment, Missouri’s Megan’s Law has been challenged in court numerous times[8] and is regularly amended by the General Assembly.[9]

In 2006, a group of Jackson County, Missouri, residents challenged Missouri’s Megan’s Law.[10] They argued that the sex offender registration law violated their state constitutional right to due process and equal protection as well as the state’s constitutional ban on ex post facto laws.[11] The Supreme Court of Missouri rejected these claims.[12] However, the court did note that the Missouri Constitution contains additional language along with its ex post facto clause “that no . . . law . . . retrospective in its operation . . . can be enacted.”[13] Thus, for those defendants who were convicted and completed their sentence prior to the law’s passage in 1995, the law’s registration requirement imposes “a new duty to register and to maintain and update the registration regularly, based solely on their offenses prior to [Megan's Law's] enactment.”[14] This, according to the court, violated the Missouri constitutional bar on laws retrospective in operation.[15]

At the federal level, the amended version of the Sexual Offenders Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires that “[a] sex offender shall register . . . in each jurisdiction where the offender resides.”[16] The federal act applies to all “sex offenders convicted before July 27, 2006.”[17] Consequently, the federal law creates a registration requirement that is independent of the state obligation and goes beyond what is constitutionally permissible at the Missouri state level.

IV. Commentary

As a result of the Missouri Supreme Court’s opinion in Keathley, all sex offenders living in Missouri must register. For those individuals convicted of sex offenses prior to 1995, the retrospective law argument has been rendered toothless. Given the court’s opinion in Keathley, the General Assembly may deem further changes to Missouri’s Megan’s Law less necessary.

-Chad Voss

[1] Doe v. Keathley, 2009 WL 1674925, at *1 (Mo. June 16, 2009).
[2] Id.
[3] Id. at *2.
[4] Id. at *3.
[5] Doe v. Phillips, 194 S.W.3d 833, 839 (Mo. 2006).
[6] Id.
[7] Mo. Rev. Stat § 589.400 (Supp. 2007).
[8] See, e.g., J.S. v. Beaird, 28 S.W.3d 875 (Mo. 2000); R.W. v. Sanders, 168 S.W.3d 65 (Mo. 2005); Doe v. Phillips, 194 S.W.3d 833 (Mo. 2006); Doe v. Blunt, 225 S.W.3d 421 (Mo. 2007).
[9] See, e.g., H.B. 1335, 89th Gen. Assem., 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 1998); S.B. 602, 90th Gen. Assem., 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2000); S.B. 758, 91st Gen. Assem., 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2002); S.B. 855, 91st Gen. Assem., 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2002); S.B. 5, 92nd Gen. Assem., 1st Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2003); S.B. 184, 92nd Gen. Assem., 1st Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2003); H.B. 1055, 92nd Gen. Assem., 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2004); H.B. 1290, 93rd Gen. Asssem., 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2006); S.B. 758, 94th Gen. Assem. 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2008).
[10] Doe v. Phillips, 194 S.W.3d 833, 837-38(Mo. 2006).
[11] Id. at 838.
[12] Id. at 841-47.
[13] Id. at 849-50.
[14] Id. at 852.
[15] Id.
[16] 42 U.S.C. § 16913 (Supp. 2006).
[17] 42 U.S.C. § 16913(d); 28 C.F.R. § 72.3 (2007).