High court halts sex offender law

The Nevada Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a tough sex offender registration and public notification law enacted by state lawmakers in 2007 that opponents say will subject even low-level offenders from decades ago to undue ridicule.

In an order issued Jan. 30, three justices granted a stay of the law that was to take effect Feb. 1.

Justices James Hardesty, Michael Douglas and Michael Cherry said the opponents’ petition raises “issues of arguable merit” and said a temporary injunction was warranted. The court ordered further legal briefs on the issue.

Nevada legislators enacted AB579 to comply with the 2006 federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. It was named after 6-year-old boy who was kidnapped from a Florida shopping mall in 1981 and later found dead.

The Nevada law applies sexual offender and public notification requirements retroactively to convictions dating to 1956, even if the person has been assessed as a low risk for re-offending.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of Nevada’s law in 2012 and lifted an injunction that had been in place for three years.

But a Las Vegas law firm in January filed a petition on behalf of 24 unnamed plaintiffs in state court aiming to stop the law from taking effect. A Clark County judge denied the request in late January, prompting the emergency appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“There are a whole bunch of policy reasons why this law is a terrible idea,” Maggie McLetchie, one attorney handling the case, said Tuesday.

The petition argues the law will replace Nevada’s risk-based assessment on who needs to register with a system totally tied to conviction.

Prior risk assessments will be “tossed out the window,” and anyone who committed a crime with a sexual element since 1956 would be subject to the law, the petition said.

“For people who have already paid their debt to society, even people whose crimes are in the distant past, this means that they will not only have to register regularly, they will have to do so every time they change jobs or, for a homeless person, every time they stay at a different shelter,” the petition said. “Almost all sex offenders — and by default, their families — face being subjected to community notification and danger.”

The state monitors about 3,000 registered sex offenders, and it’s not immediately known how many will be added to the list if the registration requirements are expanded.

Because of the court’s order, the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners withdrew a funding request to hire one new position to help implement the law.


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