Court Upholds Sex Offender Registry

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The West Virginia Supreme Court says the state can continue to put its sex offender registry on the Internet and keep publicizing the information as long as the offender lives. A group of convicted sex offenders had asked the court to limit the way West Virginia publicizes personal information they must give State Police after their release. They appealed a ruling by Wood County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Reed that the public's right to safety outweighs any privacy concerns of the offenders.

The unanimous opinion upholds Reed's decision. The court says public records exist of each appellant's conviction for a sexual offense. Some public record of the conviction will persist for the life of the appellants, even without the registry. The changes made to the statute that requires life registration and public dissemination of registry information do not amount to an additional punishment.

The opinion also says the registry does not violate anyone's due process rights even though there is no mechanism for a person convicted of a sex crime to prove he or she is no longer dangerous to the public.

The sex offender registry was created by the Legislature in 1993 and contains about 14-hundred names of people convicted of sex crimes. The list, including addresses and other personal details, is available on a Web site maintained by the State Police.

All sex offenders must maintain their registration for at least ten years, informing State Police of their whereabouts if they move. Other offenders, including those with multiple convictions, violent sexual predators and those who prey on minors, can be required to maintain their registration for life.

Failure to maintain registration is a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for subsequent offenses. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the legality of sex offender registries, which exist in some form in every state.