LANSING, Mich. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the legality of Michigan’s sex-offender registry, saying the registry doesn’t imply those listed are a danger to society.
The court said the registry simply gives names and addresses of all those convicted of a sex offense, making no reference to whether the person is dangerous.
“Under well-settled precedent ... damage to reputation alone does not implicate a protected liberty or property interest,” the three judges said in a unanimous decision yesterday.
The opinion overturns a lower court ruling.
The lawsuit against the registry was filed by former state corrections officer Daniel Fullmer, who was accused of having sex with a female inmate in 1999.
Fullmer pleaded no contest to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. He sued after a neighbor spotted his name on the Internet and asked his wife if he was a child molester.
Fullmer argued that he didn’t want to prevent police from tracking sexual predators, but said he shouldn’t be included on the registry because he is not a danger to the public.
In June 2002, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts in Detroit ruled the registry was unconstitutional because it lacked a way for people to challenge the government’s claim that they were a danger to society. She ordered the registry closed, but the federal appeals court ruled in August 2002 that it had to stay open while it considered the case.
State Attorney General Mike Cox welcomed the appeals court’s decision.
“Knowledge is power, and knowing where sex offenders live helps to keep our communities, families and citizens safer,” Cox said in a statement. “The decision is good news for parents who use this valuable resource and great news for the kids that the registry protects.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, however, said it still opposes public dissemination of the registry because the list fails to distinguish between sex criminals who pose a continuing risk and those who do not.
“There are people who are not sexual predators going up on this list with terrible ramifications for the rest of their lives,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU. “What you’re talking about here is a public lynching that lasts a lifetime.”
Fullmer’s attorney, Thomas Lazar of Bingham Farms, said he’s unlikely to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court because the higher court already has upheld a sex-offender registry in another case.
But he said the state’s sex-offender registry and its reporting requirements remain onerous on hundreds of people convicted of relatively minor crimes. He mentioned one man who relieved himself behind a bar, was convicted of indecent exposure and now is on the registry.
“I don’t mind it for the molesters. I think they should be plastered on the Internet. People need to protect themselves,” Lazar said. “But to have these people lumped together with these dangerous ones, that’s not right.”
Michigan could have lost millions of dollars in federal law enforcement grants if its sex-offender registry wasn’t public. All states have sex-offender registries, but not all make the contents public.
The case is Fullmer v. Michigan Department of State Police.
Michigan’s registry was set up in 1994 and made public through the Internet in 1999. It gives the names and addresses of convicted sex offenders as well as the charges of which they were convicted. As of Feb. 1, the registry listed 33,849 offenders, a state police spokeswoman said.
State lawmakers are considering a bill now before a Senate committee that would remove from the registry teenagers who had consensual sex with someone close in age as long as the act wasn’t violent and they’re not considered predators. The measure passed the House last November. The sex-offender registration revision is House Bill 4920 and House bill 5240.