Montana Supreme Court finds registration is punitive and cannot be applied retroactively

  • What was the central question before the court in Montana v. Richard Hinman?
  • What were the circumstances leading to Richard Hinman’s appeal in this case?
  • How did the Montana Legislature amend the Sexual or Violent Offender Registration Act (SVORA) and apply these changes retroactively?
  • What was the Montana Supreme Court’s previous stance on the punitive nature of SVORA?
  • How did the court’s assessment of SVORA change in this case, and what were the implications of their decision?

In the case of Montana v. Richard Hinman, decided on June 14, 2023, the central question before the Montana Supreme Court was whether the retroactive application of the Sexual or Violent Offender Registration Act (SVORA) violated the prohibition against ex post facto punishment in Article II, Section 31, of the Montana Constitution.

The court concluded that the SVORA structure in place since 2007 was punitive, significantly hindering registrants’ liberty and privacy. They ruled that it could not be applied retroactively under the ex post facto clause, marking a departure from their previous stance on SVORA’s punitive nature.

Here are the key details:

  • The case arose from an appeal filed by Richard Hinman, who had been charged with failure to register under SVORA. Hinman was convicted of a sexual offense in 1994 and had completed his sentence. At the time of his conviction, SVORA required him to register for 10 years with only an annual verification through mail.
  • The Montana Legislature made several amendments to SVORA, making it more onerous for previously convicted registrants, and applied these changes retroactively. When Hinman faced charges for failure to register in 2019, he argued that these amended requirements rendered SVORA unconstitutional as an ex post facto punishment.
  • Hinman had previously pled guilty to a registry violation and paid a fine. However, the SVORA requirements had undergone significant changes over the years, including in 2007, 2013, 2015, and 2017.
  • Hinman challenged his 2019 charge, citing a growing body of case law from other jurisdictions and pointing out the broad collateral consequences faced by SVORA registrants today. The State argued that the court should maintain its previous reasoning from State v. Mount (2003), where SVORA was considered nonpunitive.

This decision underscores the evolving interpretation of the SVORA and its impact on registrants’ rights.

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