As a former prosecutor, I am writing to offer my thoughts about the opinion of the Alaska Supreme Court in John Doe v. State of Alaska, Supreme Court No. S16748.
On June 14, the Supreme Court issued a decision that preserves the Alaska Sex Offender Registry Act (ASORA). The court denied John Doe’s request to be released from his requirement to register as a sex offender because he had been convicted for a sex crime in another state. The court also denied his request to declare the ASORA unconstitutional.
ASORA still exists, and recently, there were 3,531 entries on the list. A wide range of crimes require registration, from murder in the course of a sexual offense to distributing indecent material to minors, known as “sexting.” ASORA continues to require the Department of Public Safety to maintain a central registry of sex offenders which is accessible to the public. It is worth noting that sex offenders are not required to register until they are released from prison, which means they are in our communities.
The Supreme Court, through its opinion in John Doe, established a right for sex offenders to file a separate civil lawsuit for removal from the registry. In order to be removed, sex offenders will have to prove they no longer pose a risk to the public. The Supreme Court noted that a majority of states already provide sex offenders with the right to these types of hearings. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the superior court will have to develop the individualized risk assessment hearings, with input from the parties and expert witnesses. Even though the opinion did not specifically address whether victims will have the right to participate in the hearings, I hope the superior court will provide that right to victims.
Chief Justice Joel Bolger and Justice Craig Stowers raised genuine concerns about the opinion in their dissenting opinion. I share many of their concerns and I am concerned the superior court is already overwhelmed by its caseload. I anticipate many sex offenders will seek to be removed from the registry, which will stress the limited resources of the Alaska Court System and the Department of Law.
Ultimately, I do not believe that the Supreme Court’s opinion in John Doe makes Alaska less safe. Rather, sex offenders now have significant incentive to rehabilitate themselves in order to have a chance at removal from the registry. The opportunity for sex offenders to have a chance at removal from the registry strikes an appropriate balance between the need to protect the public and the principle of reformation.
• Clint Campion is in private practice as a member of Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC. He served as a state prosecutor for nine years, including three years as the Anchorage District Attorney. He previously served as a Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army for nine years.