State Politics

Sex offenders say Idaho law hurts them. Judge replies: Prove it

A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging Idaho's sex offender registration laws, but the 134 anonymous sex offenders who brought the lawsuit have the option to refile the case if they can show the current laws caused them actual harm.

That could be difficult, U.S. District Judge David Nye warned, because several common arguments have already been shot down in previous court cases.

"Common arguments in this area are that the registration requirements are embarrassing, invasive and burdensome. These challenges, however, have been unavailing as none are based on recognized fundamental rights," Nye wrote in the ruling made earlier this month.

The plaintiffs, referred to as John and Jane Does 1-134, sued the state two years ago contending Idaho laws requiring them to register as sex offenders for life violate their constitutional rights on several grounds.

For instance, some plaintiffs said rules requiring them to stay at least 500 feet (150 meters) from schools violate their right to freely exercise their religion, because some churches may be within 500 feet of a school. Others said they were convicted of misdemeanors or lesser sex offenses and completed their sentences but years later were forced to register as sex offenders after lawmakers decided to reclassify the crimes as felonies or aggravated sex offenses.

Nye said the court wouldn't guess at whether the laws caused enough harm to violate any specific plaintiff's fundamental rights. The plaintiffs will have to spell that out if they refile, the judge said.

"One cannot simply name a large group of Plaintiffs, allege a dozen causes of actions, and expect the Court to figure out which plaintiffs have suffered which harms," the judge wrote in the ruling released May 17.

They'll also have to show any harm they suffered outweighs the benefits that sex registration laws offer society, Nye said.

"While the outcome of certain regulations may negatively affect a person socially, economically or even legally, the Court must weigh any competing interests," the judge found. "Time and time again, Courts have found that the protection of society outweighs any inconvenience or diminution in rights suffered by registrants."

Dan Brown, the Twin Falls attorney representing the plaintiffs, did not respond to a request for comment.

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