Lifetime placement on a sex offender registry is one of many “collateral consequence of criminal conviction.” It is not formally associated with criminal sentencing, and it falls outside the purview of our judicial system. Our courts recognize collateral consequences as civil, rather than criminal, penalties. They are considered, somewhat oddly, “non-punitive.”
There is a long list of grievances with regard to collateral consequences, the legal literature on this issue broad, and broader every year. Writing recently in the volume Law as Punishment / Law as Regulation, University of Vermont associate professor Alec Ewald said,
Collateral consequences represent a damaging new manifestation of a virulent exclusionary tradition in American citizenship law. Denying millions of people full civic standing and autonomy is not new in American political life. What is novel is that collateral sanctions withdraw indefinitely core attributes of citizenship, and do so in a formal but shadowy way through the cumulative effects of scores of scattered, quasi-penal policies whose ambiguous legal status has in effect insulated them from necessary public, legislative, and judicial examination.
But an interesting new case has popped up in Washinton D.C., documented here by The Washington Post. Registered sex offender Dennis Sobin is “registering the registerers” at www.IdiotsRegistry.info. “If it’s not punishment to be on a list, we thought we’d put the people who do the registering on a list,” Sobin explained to the Post.
The website is making its way into the courts now, Sobin targeted with a lawsuit but defending himself on First Amendment grounds. Comical as the whole bit seems, a bit boorish maybe, the kernel of the issue speaks to an important and pervasive question facing our bloated system of incarceration: when, if ever, does a convict earn his redemption?