Lawmakers miss deadline to change sex offender registry

ALPENA–Three months ago, a federal judge gave Michigan lawmakers 90 days to propose changes to legislation that had been declared unconstitutional in 2016.

That 90-day deadline has passed, and changes have not yet been proposed to the Michigan Sex Offender Registry Act, which requires convicted felons to report their whereabouts to a publicly available database for up to a lifetime.

Lawmakers have not acted because no changes have been suggested by the task force charged with addressing the judge’s orders, state Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, told The News. That’s despite the Aug. 21 deadline for change having come and gone.

The judge in the case has granted a 60-day reprieve in which lawmakers are to file briefs relevant to the required change. It is not immediately clear what will happen if those new deadlines are not met.

The registry was designed to protect communities, according to Alpena County Sheriff Steven Kieliszewski, because it allows residents to learn about people who have committed a serious crime who may be living nearby.

But some crimes that fall under the umbrella of criminal sexual conduct include non-predatory, “Romeo and Juliet” scenarios, involving a teenage romance leading to consensual sex before the age of consent, the sheriff said.

While illegal, such acts are arguably not a danger to the community.

That disparity is the primary cause of the called-for revisions to the law.

“We’re all young,” Kieliszewski said. “We all do stupid things. I’m not excusing what the individual may or may not have done, but does that mean we have to punish the individual for the rest of their life for something stupid they did when they were young? That’s what’s being addressed.”

Five convicted felons have been added to the registry in 2019 from Alpena and Montmorency counties’ 26th Circuit Court, according to the Michigan State Police, which maintains the registry. Although the number is fluid, the registry currently lists 99 felons with an Alpena address who were convicted of crimes ranging from aggravated indecent exposure to violent rape.

Data released in May by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates sex offenders are less likely to be arrested than other types of offenders.

About two-thirds of released sex offenders studied were arrested within nine years of their release, compared to 84% of other released prisoners.

However, released sex offenders were three times more likely to be re-arrested for rape and sexual assault than other released prisoners.

The constitutionality of Michigan’s registry was challenged in a lawsuit because of changes made in 2006 and 2011, which retroactively changed how long people were required to register and imposed harsher reporting requirements. Opponents say those changes constitute undue punishment.

Registered offenders are required to report to law enforcement up to four times a year and inform authorities about all significant changes in their lives, including new jobs, vehicles, or email addresses. They are not allowed to live, work, or loiter within 1,000 feet of a school. Information about registrants, including their home address, is available on a publicly available website.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.