It is thus clear that essential elements cannot be derived from a mechanical parsing, but must be considered by applying appropriate standards of statutory construction.
SORA became effective on January 21, 1996. It imposed a notification and registration requirement on individuals convicted of certain sex crimes. Such individuals are to be classified into one of three levels which level then triggers a particular mode of community notification. SORA followed the adoption of similar laws in New Jersey and elsewhere, sometimes called Megan’s Laws, in remembrance of Megan Kanka, a young girl who was murdered by a felon who had been convicted of a sexual felony, served his time and who, after his release, resided in the victim’s neighborhood.
After its enactment in 1995, SORA was challenged on numerous grounds. State and federal courts in New York have reviewed the constitutional implications of SORA, including ex post facto prohibition, double jeopardy and other due process rights, and, with minor exceptions not relevant here, have come to the conclusion that the registration requirements of SORA are valid. The courts examined the Act’s legislative intent, purpose, design, history and effects, among other tests, in order to determine whether SORA could pass constitutional muster.
The courts first asked whether SORA was remedial or punitive. In examining the legislative findings, courts reviewing SORA make note of the express legislative intent of SORA set forth in the statute itself.
The legislature finds that the danger of recidivism posed by sex offenders, especially those sexually violent offenders who commit predatory acts characterized by repetitive and compulsive behavior, and that the protection of the public from these offenders is of paramount concern or interest to government. The legislature further finds that law enforcement agencies’ efforts to protect their communities, conduct investigations and quickly apprehend sex offenders are impaired by the lack of information about sex offenders who live within their jurisdiction and that the lack of information shared with the public may result in the failure of the criminal justice system to identify, investigate, apprehend and prosecute sex offenders.
The system of registering sex offenders is a proper exercise of the state’s police power regulating present and ongoing conduct. Registration will provide law enforcement with additional information critical to preventing sexual victimization and to resolving incidents involving sexual abuse and exploitation promptly. It will allow them to alert the public when necessary for the continued protection of the community. Rape was not involved.
Persons found to have committed a sex offense have a reduced expectation of privacy because of the public’s interest in safety and in the effective operation of government. In balancing [offenders’] due process and other rights, and the interests of public security, the legislature finds that releasing information about sex offenders to law enforcement agencies and, under certain circumstances, providing access to limited information about certain sex offenders to the general public, will further the primary government interest of protecting vulnerable populations and in some instances the public, from potential harm.
Therefore, the state’s policy, which will bring the state into compliance with the federal crime control act is to assist the local law enforcement agencies’ efforts to protect their communities by requiring sex offenders to register and to authorize the release of necessary and relevant information about certain sex offenders to the public in this act.
Based in part on this express legislative statement, the New York State courts have almost uniformly held that the laws requiring registration of sex offenders are remedial and therefore constitutional. In most cases, the courts have found SORA does not violate double jeopardy rights or the Ex Post Facto Clause. Requirements for notification and registration are civil and remedial and do not constitute punishment. Megan’s Law was adopted as a remedial measure to ameliorate the danger to the public caused by the release of sex offenders and does not violate the petitioner’s double jeopardy rights.
To Be cont….