Judge Blocks Parts of Sex Offender Law

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked portions of Nebraska's new sex offender registry law, including provisions that sought to monitor convicted sex offenders' computer usage and prevent them from visiting certain Web sites.

Judge Richard Kopf did leave most of the law intact, saying it came close to meeting criteria set for the state by Congress.

Kopf said lawmakers may have gone too far in two areas - both
provisions that weren't required under the federal legislation. Those provisions prohibit sex offenders from using social networking sites used by children, like MySpace and Facebook. They also require sex offenders have hardware or software installed on their computers and other electronic communication devices to monitor their activities and to consent to such searches.

Convicted sex offenders who have completed their criminal sentences and are not on probation, parole or court-ordered supervision won't be subject to those provisions, according to Kopf's ruling, which granted a limited preliminary injunction.

A phone message left Wednesday night for Stu Dornan, an attorney
who sued earlier this month to challenge the revised law's constitutionality, wasn't immediately returned.

Attorney General Jon Bruning issued a statement saying he's pleased most of the changes to the law will move forward. "These bills were designed to protect children and today's ruling is good news for the parents and children of Nebraska."

The rest of the law will take effect Friday, including changes that will make public information about all sex offenders and not just those considered high-risk, as has been the state's practice.

The case stems from a federal lawsuit Dornan filed Dec. 16 on behalf of 20 sex offenders, their relatives and employers. It sought to stop the law from taking effect.

Dornan argued the new law would allow for retroactive criminal punishment, amount to double jeopardy, permit unreasonable searches and seizures, and violate the rights to due process and free speech.

Kopf emphasized in his ruling that federal courts have consistently upheld state sex offender registry legislation amid constitutional challenges. "Bluntly put, I am unwilling to allow this suit to become a
backhanded way of neutering (the Sex Offender Registration and
Notification Act.)"

Nebraska lawmakers changed the law earlier this year, saying the revision was needed to comply with federal legislation passed in 2006. That legislation said that if Nebraska and other states don't publicly register all people convicted of sexual offenses and make other adjustments, they could lose out on federal grant dollars for local law enforcement.

At least 30 states have passed legislation in an effort to comply with the law and many others are studying it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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