Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WI - 7th Circuit upholds $100 annual sex offender registry (extortion) fee

ExtortionOriginal Article


By Bruce Vielmetti

The $100 that Wisconsin sex offenders must pay every year for being listed on a registry is not an unlawful fine, a federal appeals court has ruled. But the court did not address other lifetime conditions of Wisconsin sex offender registration because it found the challengers lacked standing.

The decision (PDF) by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling by a Green Bay federal judge, and also thwarted the plaintiffs' request to proceed as unnamed. Instead, the court added their names to the case.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach had ruled the $100 fee amounted to a fine and therefore was an unlawful "ex post facto" punishment for the two plaintiffs, who had been convicted before Wisconsin adopted the sex offender monitoring law.

_____ and _____ remain subject to not only the annual $100 fee, but also many other lifetime requirements and restrictions of the sex offender registry, even though they now live in Connecticut and Florida, respectively, and never intend to return to Wisconsin.

_____ was convicted in 1993 and served four years in prison plus six years of probation. _____ was convicted in 1985 and served five years, then again in 1993 and served one year. Each is now subject to lifetime registry in Wisconsin.

But if that's true, the court wrote, they would likely never face any real consequence of violating those restrictions, such as changing their name, or photographing children, or not reporting a change of address, because Wisconsin admits it has never tried to enforce completely out-of-state violations of the restrictions.

_____ and _____ do have standing to complain about the annual re-registration and fee, but the court said those aspects of the law are not punitive, and therefore not prohibited "ex post facto" law. Judge Richard Posner wrote the opinion for a panel that included Judge Diane Sykes and Judge Frank Easterbrook.

"The fee is intended to compensate the state for the expense of maintaining the sex offender registry," Posner wrote. "The offenders are responsible for the expense, so there is nothing 'punitive' about making them pay for it, any more than it is 'punitive' to charge a fee for a passport."

On the issue of the plaintiffs' request for anonymity, the court noted that while the plaintiffs contend they've been subjected to shunning and harassment for being on the offender registry, which is public, the court generally opposes secrecy. In this case, judges didn't see how any additional harm from being named as plaintiffs could outweigh the disruption to their personal lives they say they already have suffered.

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