Federal judge rules Colorado sex offender registration unconstitutional—says registry puts offenders at risk for ‘violence’

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Colorado’s sex offender registration violated the rights of three sex offenders—possibly resulting in sweeping implications as to how the public gets the list.

The Denver Post reports that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch determined that the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act violates the cruel and unusual clause of the Eighth Amendment. Judge Matsch’s ruling was in regards to a September 2013 civil case brought against Colorado Bureau of Investigation director Michael Rankin by registered sex offenders David Millard, Eugene Knight, and Arturo Vega.

Though Thursday’s decision only concerns the three plaintiffs, their attorney, Alison Ruttenberg, said the case could have a larger impact if it’s upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Conversely, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman claimed that Judge Matsch’s decision didn’t challenge the registration act as a whole, according to Reuters. KMGH also reports that his opinion stops short of deeming the entire act unconstitutional.

In his 42-page opinion, which can be read in full below, Judge Matsch found that the sex offender registry creates a “serious threat of retaliation, violence, ostracism, shaming, and other unfair and irrational treatment from the public” to sex offenders and their families.

“The registry is telling the public — DANGER, STAY AWAY. How is the public to react to this warning? What is expected to be the means by which people are to protect themselves and their children?”

In her court filing, Ruttenberg claimed there was “zero” evidence the list protected the public. The judge agreed, rejecting the State’s argument that the registry wasn’t punitive and calling it a “retribution for past offenses’ [more] than a public safety regulation. ”

Judge Matsch also found the registry cruel and unusual because it extends punishment beyond jail time and probation. According to KMGH, a sex offender can petition to be removed from the registry five, 10 or 20 years after they complete their sentence.

“The evidence in this case demonstrates that the very real restraints on Plaintiffs’ abilities to live, work, accompany their children to school, and otherwise freely live their lives are not simply a result of the crimes they committed, but of their placement on the registry and publication of their status,” he wrote.

The three men are also entitled to compensation and attorney’s fees under Thursday’s ruling.

[Featured:  Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI)]