Challenge to Alabama’s Sex Offender Registration Law

IMG_8771 Alabama (Montgomery)

In 2011, Alabama’s state legislature passed the most punitive sex offender registration law in the country: “ASORCNA” — the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act. It forbids all former sex offenders from living or working within 2,000 feet of a school or daycare, a zone of exclusion encompassing virtually the entire cities of Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa. In some situations, registrants are denied the right to live with their own parents, siblings, spouse, or other family members. ASORCNA’s restrictions also create impediments to travel, levy excessive fees and fines, and impose unparalleled reporting requirements that are unmatched across the United States. ASORCNA has caused countless Alabamians to become homeless and unemployed.

The Story of Our Client, Michael McGuire

When Michael McGuire was 30 years old, he was convicted of a serious crime: sexually assaulting his then-fiancé (who was also 30 years old). He spent three years in Colorado prison and one year on probation. By 1989, he had finished repaying his debt to society and had a multi-decade career as a jazz musician in restaurants and nightclubs. In 2010 — 25 years after the assault, when he was fifty-six years old — Michael moved back to his hometown of Montgomery to take care of his aging mother (who passed away in 2016). Upon arriving in Alabama, he was required — for the first time in his life — to register as a former sex offender. He willingly registered, but little did he know that his move back to Alabama would ruin his life.

This once-productive member of society is now unemployed. Because of his sex offender status, no one will hire him. Music gigs are out of the question because all the bars and music clubs where he could play are in the restricted zone.

Even though Michael has never hurt a child, he was forced to move out of his mother’s house because it was too close to a school. He and his wife checked over 60 apartments before settling on one they thought was compliant, only to be told by police that it was too close to a daycare. Michael was forced to move out of his wife’s house and sleep under a bridge several blocks away. Soon, the police discovered that the bridge was too close to a daycare, and they told him he had to move to a different bridge seven miles from his wife’s home. Michael now sleeps under a bridge in his hometown, walking four hours round trip every day just to see his wife.

“A law that causes even one person to be homeless is unacceptable. A law that causes perhaps dozens of people to be homeless is an outrage. A law that prevents someone from taking paying, socially productive work is an affront to a free society. A law that prevents someone from living with his wife, brother, or aging mom is irrational. A law that forces a person to sleep under a bridge is absurd. A law that does all of these things on the basis of a single crime more than 30 years old is unconstitutional.”
-From Equal Justice Under Law’s supplemental brief, filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, on July 13, 2017

Our Lawsuit
McGuire v. Strange

Along with local counsel in Montgomery, Alabama, Equal Justice Under Law challenged the constitutionality of Alabama’s sex offender registration law as violating the Constitution’s ex post facto provision, which prevents retroactively punishing individuals for past crimes.

Our work led the federal district court to declare Alabama’s law “the most comprehensive, debilitating sex-offender scheme in the land” and strike down several provisions. We continue to litigate the case on appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Changes to the Law

In the summer of 2017, Alabama’s state legislature made changes to ASCORNA, hoping to provide clarity to some of the issues raised by our lawsuit. However, the state’s changes only made the law worse — more restrictive and more punitive — not better. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals requested a supplemental brief, explaining how the changes to the law affected our lawsuit.

In the brief, Equal Justice Under Law in part argues that “By creating heightened residency restrictions, further limitations on visiting relatives, and other amendments, Alabama has made the most debilitating scheme in the country even more punitive.”

You can read our appellate briefs here and here.

Read our Supplemental Brief filed on July 13, 2017

LISTEN to Executive Director Phil Telfeyan give oral arguments in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Media Coverage of Our Case and the Issue

(for additional media coverage, please contact our Communications Department at communications@equaljusticeunderlaw.org)

“As Some States Reconsider Sex Offender Registries, an Alabama Resident Argues the State’s For-Life Requirements are Too Much” by Cameron Kiszla for the Anniston Star on July 15, 2017

“Not-So-Sweet-Home Alabama” by Steve Yoder for Life on the List on July 16, 2015

“A ‘Frightening’ Myth about Sex Offenders,” an Op-Doc by David Feige. The New York Times.

“Making the Case Against Banishing Sex Offenders” by Maurice Chammah for The Marshall Project on October 5, 2016

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