A federal appeals panel in Washington today rejected an argument that the District of Columbia's sex-offender registry is an unconstitutional example of ex post facto punishment.
The challenge to the registry was brought by Grant Anderson, who according to the panel's opinion is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. A jury convicted Anderson in 1988 of attempted rape and other charges. While he was serving his sentence, the D.C. Council in 2000 passed its Sex Offender Registration Act.
Anderson brought the case pro se. U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts granted motions by the District government and the U.S. Justice Department to dismiss the case. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit appointed a student and professor from the University of Georgia School of Law to argue for Anderson as amicus.
The decision today from a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit says the D.C. registry should be viewed as a civil system of regulation and not as an additional criminal penalty. The opinion notes, for example, that the registry is housed in an administrative agency, not in a court office or in an agency charged with carrying out punishment.
“We see no reason to think that the Council’s aim with [the registration act] was different from that of the many other legislatures that have passed similar laws,” Judge Thomas Griffith wrote for the unanimous panel. Judges Merrick Garland and Karen Henderson joined the opinion (PDF).
Griffith wrote that Anderson failed to support his other claims, including violations of the Fifth and Eighth amendments.
Ariel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel to D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, wrote in an e-mail today: “We are pleased that the court of appeals confirmed the constitutional validity of the Council’s regulatory law dealing with this important issue.”
A message left with Erica Hashimoto, a University of Georgia associate professor who handled amicus briefing in the case, was not immediately returned today.
Updated at 1:27 p.m.