Missouri lawmakers want all sex offenders to register despite state Supreme Court ruling

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling striking the requirement for some convicted sex offenders to register with local sheriff departments has prompted some area officials to take action.

In the June 30 ruling, sex offenders convicted before Jan. 1, 1995, do not have to register in accordance with the Missouri sex offender registry.

Under the state and federal constitution, no one can be charged with a crime that was not illegal at the time it was done. But in the Missouri Constitution, additional language states that no law retrospective in its operation can be enacted, which the requirement for sex offender registry falls under.

Because the federal sex offender registry, known as "Megan's Law," was not enacted until the beginning of 1995, it would be unconstitutional in Missouri to require offenders convicted before then to register.

"We're going to have a lot of unregistered sex offenders out there," said state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau. "It doesn't make any sense not to have all sexual predators registered."

In light of the court's ruling, Crowell met with Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle to discuss what could be done.

"It basically only involves changing five words in the Missouri constitution," Swingle said.

While Crowell admitted changing the state's constitution is a big deal, doing so would be the only way to ensure all sex offenders are registered, regardless of when they were convicted.

"Our plan ... is to introduce legislation that would remove those five words from the Missouri Constitution," the senator said.

Such legislation could be seen as early as January, Crowell said.

The court's ruling does not stop local law enforcement agencies from continuing to publicly list information on sex offenders, even if they were convicted prior to 1995.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan said his department's Web site would list all sex offenders in the county, even the 47 of 121 who are now exempt from registering.

"Our plan is not to remove those there," Jordan said. He encouraged county residents to take advantage of the Internet and keep track of sex offenders.

The only sex offenders convicted before 1995 the court's ruling does not affect are those considered "sexually violent predators," who are repeat offenders of forcible rape or sodomy, according to Swingle.

Those offenders who are designated as such by a judge at the time of their sentencing represent a small percentage of convicted sex offenders, he said.

kmorrison@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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