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MO Would Publish Online Identities of Sex Offenders

October 13, 2009

blog.jeffcitylaw.com : Missouri would publish online identities of sex offenders

Rep. Tom Dempsey, of St. Charles is expected to sponsor a bill in the next session which would require all domain names, instant message names and e-mail addresses of registered sex offender to be posted in a public database. Sex offenders would only be permitted to use their registered online identifiers. Any violation of the law would be a class D felony.

Enforcement could be a problem, however, for both practical and legal reasons.

Practical Problems:

In announcing the bill, Gov. Blunt noted that MySpace.com recently deleted the user pages of 29,000 registered sex offenders. It goes, almost without saying, that MySpace only deleted the pages of the sex offenders who used their real names (either because they were stupid or perhaps because they weren’t doing anything wrong). Many of those 29,000 could have (by now) have opened new MySpace accounts under fake names and effectively gone underground.

This bill will suffer the same problem. Sex offenders can setup phoney email accounts all day long and no one will know. They know it will decrease their chance of getting caught, and if they do get caught committing a sex crime, the class D felony for failing to register will be the least of their problems.

Legal Problems:

Whether the bill is effective or not, Rep. Dempsey will have to be careful crafting a bill. Here’s why:

* Missouri’s Constitution provides, that “ no . . . law . . . retrospective in its operation . . . can be enacted.” Mo. Const. art I, sec. 13. “A retrospective law is one which creates a new obligation, imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability with respect to transactions or considerations already past.” Doe v. Phillips, 194 S.W.3d 833 (Mo banc, 2006)

* It seems that the registration requirement would create a “new obligation” on anyone who committed a registry crime. That’s unconstitutional if applied to anyone whose crime was committed before the effective date of this bill (presumably Aug 28, 2008).

* As to the ban on using an unregistered username, that would seem to qualify as a “new disability.” So that sounds unconstitutional too.

If this is correct, this new law could not apply to any current sex offenders, but only to those who may join the rolls in the future.

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