Ruling for 3 sex offenders may influence future of state’s registry

A recent ruling from a federal judge that Colorado’s sex offender registry violated the constitutional rights of three sex offenders has prompted swift reactions across the state, but it’s still not clear whether or when it will affect Mesa County cases.

After a lawsuit filed by three sex offenders, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch ruled Aug. 31 that the Colorado Sex Offender Registry Act violated Eighth Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment, as well as due-process rights protected in the 14th Amendment — at least in the case of three plaintiffs.

Matsch’s ruling detailed anecdotes from the three defendants, one of whom was 13 years old when he engaged in the conduct that landed him on the registry.

In the week after the ruling, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced she intends to appeal the decision.

Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap decided to pull down the registry maintained on his office’s website — although, according to Undersheriff Adam Murdie, the county is still providing registry data to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said it’s notable that attorneys representing the three plaintiffs didn’t challenge the constitutionality of the sex offender registry act as a whole — just as it applied to the three “very sympathetic” defendants.

“We were glad that there was no question that it is not unconstitutional on its face,” Rubinstein said. “Essentially what Judge Matsch was saying in this is, the three individuals who challenged this had such a mitigated situation that there was really no ability for them to come forward and say they’ve been fully rehabilitated.”

Rubinstein said he doesn’t see the current system as a one-size-fits-all approach.

“It does distinguish based on crime level rather than other individualized characteristics,” he said, adding that reactions to Matsch’s ruling may eventually allow a more person-to-person approach to handling deregistration. “Where we may be headed is to create some sort of an individualized hearing or ability to petition the court to look under unique circumstances and determine that somebody’s no longer a danger.”

Rubinstein said he would cautiously welcome the development.

“I think the devil’s always in the details,” Rubinstein said. “You don’t want to open this up to a lot of unnecessary hearings, so I think the criteria need to be drafted strictly and thoughtfully.”

He pointed out that one of the plaintiffs in the federal case would have been eligible for deregistration this month, and that if the case had been in Mesa County and the defendant had shown all the steps he had taken to rehabilitate, Rubinstein’s office wouldn’t have objected to the request.

“Our goal is to monitor people we’re concerned about,” Rubinstein said.

Rubinstein agrees there is “no question” that the registry can be used punitively by members of the public, an issue Matsch addressed in his ruling.

“(But) that was not the intent,” Rubinstein said. “I don’t see it as being that much different than members of the public learning that someone is a convicted felon and treating them differently because of it.”

Rubinstein said the registry is important because with sex offenders — particularly those who have victimized children — rehabilitation can be elusive.

“There is a recognition that people who have a sexual desire toward children, that can’t be changed. You can’t tell a person, ‘No longer be sexually aroused by this type of person, you should now be sexually aroused by somebody else,’” Rubinstein said. “So because that underlying fact can’t be changed, there is a strong desire to protect the public by notifying the public as to where people in those situations are residing.”

Steve Colvin, head of Grand Junction’s public defender office, said he welcomed Matsch’s ruling as recognition that the way sex offenders are treated in the U.S. is too punitive, especially for offenders who have taken steps toward rehabilitation.

“We are talking about individuals who have acknowledged their crimes, gone through extensive — often years — of therapy and paid their debt to society,” Colvin wrote in an email. “However, we as a society are not willing to allow even the people who have changed to create a new and positive life.”

Colvin said the registry stigmatizes sex offenders “to the point that we force people into a life of poverty and isolation,” which he said increases the likelihood they will behave criminally down the road.

“As always, the burden of punitive consequences in the criminal justice system falls disproportionately on the poor. A homeless person may well find themselves charged with a sex offense and plead guilty in order to get out of jail, whereas, a well-off person might have the luxury of posting bond and not needing to plead guilty to receive a quick resolution,” Colvin wrote.

“Moreover, a well-to-do businessman is more likely to receive a non-sex offense disposition than a homeless man hanging out in Whitman Park.”

Colvin said it’s not clear yet whether the principles underlying Matsch’s decision could impact other sex offenders across the state.

A recent ruling from a federal judge that Colorado’s sex offender registry violated the constitutional rights of three sex offenders has prompted swift reactions across the state, but it’s still not clear whether or when it will affect Mesa County cases.

Following a lawsuit filed by three sex offenders, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch on Aug. 31 ruled that the Colorado Sex Offender Registry Act violated Eighth Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment, as well as due-process rights protected in the 14th Amendment — at least in the case of three plaintiffs. Matsch’s ruling detailed anecdotes from the three defendants, one of whom was 13 years old when he engaged in the conduct that landed him on the registry.

In the week after the ruling, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced she intends to appeal the decision. Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap decided to pull down the registry maintained on his office’s website — although, according to Undersheriff Adam Murdie, the county is still providing registry data to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said it’s notable that attorneys representing the three plaintiffs didn’t challenge the constitutionality of the sex offender registry act as a whole — just as it applied to the three “very sympathetic” defendants.

“We were glad that there was no question that it is not unconstitutional on its face,” Rubinstein said. “Essentially what Judge Matsch was saying in this is, the three individuals who challenged this had such a mitigated situation that there was really no ability for them to come forward and say they’ve been fully rehabilitated.”

Rubinstein said he doesn’t see the current system as a one-size-fits-all approach.

“It does distinguish based on crime level rather than other individualized characteristics,” he said, adding that reactions to Matsch’s ruling may eventually allow a more person-to-person approach to handling deregistration. “Where we may be headed is to create some sort of an individualized hearing or ability to petition the court to look under unique circumstances and determine that somebody’s no longer a danger.”

Rubinstein said he would cautiously welcome the development.

“I think the devil’s always in the details,” Rubinstein said. “You don’t want to open this up to a lot of unnecessary hearings, so I think the criteria need to be drafted strictly and thoughtfully.”

He pointed out that one of the plaintiffs in the federal case would have been eligible for deregistration this month, and that if the case had been in Mesa County and the defendant had shown all the steps he had taken to rehabilitate, Rubinstein’s office wouldn’t have objected to the request.

“Our goal is to monitor people we’re concerned about,” Rubinstein said.

Rubinstein agrees there is “no question” that the registry can be used punitively by members of the public, an issue Matsch addressed in his ruling.

“(But) that was not the intent,” Rubinstein said. “I don’t see it as being that much different than members of the public learning that someone is a convicted felon and treating them differently because of it.”

Rubinstein said the registry is important because with sex offenders — particularly those who have victimized children — rehabilitation can be elusive.

“There is a recognition that people who have a sexual desire toward children, that can’t be changed. You can’t tell a person, ‘No longer be sexually aroused by this type of person, you should now be sexually aroused by somebody else,’” Rubinstein said. “So because that underlying fact can’t be changed, there is a strong desire to protect the public by notifying the public as to where people in those situations are residing.”

Steve Colvin, head of Grand Junction’s public defender office, said he welcomed Matsch’s ruling as recognition that the way sex offenders are treated in the U.S. is too punitive, especially for offenders who have taken steps toward rehabilitation.

“We are talking about individuals who have acknowledged their crimes, gone through extensive — often years — of therapy and paid their debt to society,” Colvin wrote in an email. “However, we as a society are not willing to allow even the people who have changed to create a new and positive life.”

Colvin said the registry stigmatizes sex offenders “to the point that we force people into a life of poverty and isolation,” which he said increases the likelihood they will behave criminally down the road.

“As always, the burden of punitive consequences in the criminal justice system falls disproportionately on the poor. A homeless person may well find themselves charged with a sex offense and plead guilty in order to get out of jail, whereas, a well-off person might have the luxury of posting bond and not needing to plead guilty to receive a quick resolution,” Colvin wrote. “Moreover, a well-to-do business man is more likely to receive a non-sex offense disposition than a homeless man hanging out in Whitman Park.”

Colvin said it’s not clear yet whether the principles underlying Matsch’s decision could impact other sex offenders across the state.


COMMENTS

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.


TOP JOBS
Search More Jobs





THE DAILY SENTINEL
734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Editions
Subscribe to print edition
E-edition
Advertisers
eTear Sheets/ePayments
Information

© 2017 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy