Ineffective and unconstitutional

  • 10-year-old law journal article and a recent Florida newspaper column strike similar themes.
  • Common elements: Politicians pander to fear; registry should be abolished.
  • Sex-offense registry laws just don’t work, according to all of the research.

Whether it is a decades-old law journal article or a recent opinion piece in the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, there is agreement:

Sex-offense registry laws don’t work. And they are unconstitutional. A theme common to both the law review and the newspaper: Politicians pander to fear.

Then why do we have such laws? The Florida newspaper’s column answers:

These policies exist as a governmental response to community fear and outrage. There is political pressure to increase public safety. The problem is that these laws were enacted very quickly after child murder cases and became wide-reaching governmental mandates without research to back their existence and effectiveness. Fast forward 25 years, and the public and politicians are relying on window-dressing to feel safe.

The column in the Tampa Bay Times is headlined Sex offender registry laws don’t work. Here’s what might. The subheading says, “The uncomfortable truth? Those who commit sexual offenses are usually not strangers.”

The column was written by Meghan M. Mitchell (; @MeghanMMitchell), assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida; Kristen M. Zgoba (, assistant professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida International University; Alex R. Piquero (; @DrAlexPiquero), chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology and Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar at the University of Miami.

They write:

“A new study of ours shows that these policies are not effective in deterring crime or protecting citizens. We summarized 25 years of research and 474,640 formerly incarcerated sex offenders. We found that such policies do not reduce sexual or non-sexual recidivism.”

Read the Tampa Bay Times column here.

Going back a decade, the 2012 Hastings Law Journal article by Southwestern Law School Professor Catherine L. Carpenter and then-J.D. candidate Amy E. Beverlin, condemns as unconstitutional the aptly labeled super-registration schemes (such as Nebraska’s law after the passage of LB 285 in 2009).

The HLJ article’s introduction says:

“. . . this Article posits that, even if sex offender registration schemes initially were constitutional, serially amended sex offender registration schemes — what this Article dubs super-registration schemes — are not. Their emergence demands reexamination of the traditionally held assumptions that defined original registration laws as civil regulations.

“Two intertwined causes are responsible for the schemes’ constitutional downfall. The first is a legislative body eager to draft increasingly harsh registration and notification schemes to please an electorate that subsists on a steady diet of fear.

“When combined with the second cause, a Supreme Court that has yet to signal much-needed boundaries, the ensuing consequence is runaway legislation that is no longer rationally connected to its regulatory purpose. Ultimately, this Article is a cautionary tale of legislation that has become unmoored from its constitutional grounding because of its punitive effect and excessive reach.”

Read the HLJ article here.

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