Without guidance, Alaska judges to 'muddle through' sex offender registry removal decisions

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Published: Aug. 9, 2019 at 8:16 PM AKDT
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Without guidance, Alaska Superior Court judges will have to “muddle their way through” decisions over how a person can apply to be removed from the sex offender registry, says John Skidmore, the director of the criminal division with the Department of Law.

In June, the Alaska Supreme Court determined that people on the sex offender registry had a right to due process, effectively meaning they could apply to be removed from the registry if they can prove they are no longer dangerous.

Currently, there are roughly 3,500 Alaskans on the registry. Depending on the severity of the crime or past criminal history, some people are on the registry for 15 years, some for life.

Skidmore says prior to the decision, there was no legal basis for someone to apply to be removed from the registry. Now, the right is in place -- but there is no clear framework for how the process would operate.

The Dunleavy administration is working on proposals and the Legislature will likely debate the topic the next time it convenes for a regular legislative session in January.

Among the complexities is how dangerousness is defined, when applications could be made and if there are different categories of offenders.

“Ultimately, the concept is that we want to find something that respects the privacy that is guaranteed under the Alaska State Constitution, while also ensuring that the public has the appropriate information about the the sex offenders that live in our state,” said Skidmore.

In the meantime, trial court judges will need to make decisions as registrants make applications to be removed from the registry. First up, the case that sparked the Supreme Court decision.

Anchorage attorney Darryl Thompson, representing his client referred to only as John Doe in court documents, has spent 25 years arguing cases over the constitutionality of the Alaska Sex Offender Registry Act (ASORA).

“A core piece of this is the fact that by doing this is, we’re undermining their ability to rehabilitate,” said Thompson on the sex offender registry. “People can’t get from underneath it.”

The case will be remanded back to the Superior Court after decisions are made as to whether the State of Alaska should cover Thompson’s legal fees. Thompson believes so, saying Doe meets the definition of a public interest litigant when the decision could impact over 3,000 people.

The not-yet-scheduled Superior Court hearing will then effectively act as a test case for how a person could apply to be removed from the registry. It will also likely deal with questions of privacy and reporting requirements to police.

“The Doe opinion that came out in June really was saying that the sex offender registry in Alaska violates the Alaska Constitution, particularly the provision for privacy for individuals,” said Skidmore. “That privacy seems to be focused on the public registry, as opposed to the requirement that people report to law enforcement.”

Thompson disagrees, saying the right to privacy includes the right to not share personal information with the state.

In late June, the State of Alaska unsuccessfully asked the Alaska Supreme Court for a rehearing of the case, saying the court had a duty to separate the public reporting requirements from those to law enforcement.

The Supreme Court denied the request but said “the State may raise the issue in the superior court and on appeal.”

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