ACLU lawsuits look to reform Michigan Sex Offender Registry

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Lawsuits from the ACLU of Michigan aim to reform Michigan's sex offender registry

A federal court ruled three years ago that parts of Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry laws were unconstitutional, but since then, nothing in the law has changed.

The ACLU is looking to reform, or even do away with the registry as part of an ongoing lawsuit.

“The law that we have now is broken, it's bloated, its ineffective and it actually makes us less safe,” said Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan.

Aukerman said the state’s sex offender registry law is unconstitutional and ineffective, which was why the organization had ongoing lawsuits in both state and federal court.

“When someone has served their time and done their punishment, we say 'go out and start your life over again,'” Aukerman said.

Michigan has one of the largest sex offender registries of any state, with 44,000 people.

The registry is easy to access, and searchable by location or name on the Michigan State Police website.

A search of the database shows 783 registered sex offenders in Kalamazoo, including 18 living within a half mile of Newschannel 3.

“I think people need to know where things are, where people are in their neighborhood,” said Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney David Gilbert.

He said easy access to the database helps keep people safe.

In 2006 and 2011 the Michigan legislature toughened sex offender laws, requiring lifetime registration for certain offenses. Those registration requirements were implemented retroactively.

The toughened registration requirements meant people whose crimes occurred before the registry even existed had to register and were governed by strict standards.

A federal appeals court ruled the retroactive registration unconstitutional in 2016. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal a year later.

There haven’t been any changes to the law since.

Aukerman said the law does more harm than good and if the state keeps a sex offender registry, it should be much smaller.

“Certainly if you're going to have a registry it needs to be much, much smaller, much more focused,” Aukerman said.

Gilbert said the registry was working as intended.

“It’s not there for the person that was convicted, it’s there for people in the community so they can check their community and see if someone who they may consider a danger is in their neighborhood,” he said.

Aukerman said the ACLU has been reaching out to legislators in Michigan hoping to get the law changed.

She said if legislation isn’t passed, she’s confident the court would act.