PUNISHMENT OR CIVIL OBLIGATION?

Sex offender registration laws require Registrants to supply the State with verified data for publication on a web site devoted to public safety. The initial debate over these laws questioned whether they were non-punitive civil regulations or amounted to a form of punishment which could not be retroactively applied. See, Smith v. Doe, 538 US 84 (2003). The court sided with the states in that case, concluding that the registration laws are non-punitive civil regulations. Subsequently grouping the registration laws with other compelled civil obligations looks like this:

(1) Witness Attendance (compensated)
(2) Jury Duty (compensated)
(3) Depositions (compensated)
(4) Sex Offender Registration (not compensated)

It should be easy to identify the proverbial square peg in the above grouping. It is number 4, sex offender registration, the only civil obligation for which compensation is not presently awarded. Moreover, grouping registration laws with punitive consequences of conviction looks like this:

(1) Probation (not compensated)
(2) Prison (not compensated)
(3) Parole (not compensated)
(4) Lifetime Supervision (not compensated)
(5) Community Service (not compensated)
(6) Sex Offender Registration (not compensated)

Sex offender registration laws cannot honestly be deemed civil unless Registrants are awarded compensation for their services. A denial of reasonable compensation would clearly exploit an identifiable subclass and arrange the registration laws nicely within the punitive side of the equation, in conflict with the Supreme Court decision in Smith.

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