The Dobbs Wire: Bittersweet!

Bittersweet news from the US Supreme Court:  The court was asked to review two sex offense-related rulings;  yesterday the court said no to both requests.  


Here’s the bitter part:  the court refused to review a federal appeals court decision (8th Circuit) concerning Minnesota’s sex offense civil commitment program.  More than 700 individuals are held in locked facilities for ‘treatment’ – not for anything they did in the past but on a hunch about what they might do in the future.  While the program is wreathed with promises of hearings, due process, and treatment regimes, virtually no one has been released, at least while they are alive.  Indefinite detention of this sort violates internationally recognized human rights standards yet the 8th Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the program in an awful decision that now is the law because the Supreme Court refused to intervene.  It’s been a long fight, we send solidarity to everyone held in Moose Lake and St. Peter in Minnesota and hope they and their indefatigable legal eagles led by Dan Gustafson find a way to continue this important struggle.  More than 5,000 people are detained in sex offense civil commitment programs around the country. 


And the sweet:   the court also refused to review a federal appeals court decision, by the 6th Circuit, concerning Michigan’s sex offense registry law.  That ground-breaking ruling is terrific and now it becomes the law in Michigan as well as other states in the 6th Circuit (Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee).   Federal and state courts have been rubberstamping registry laws for years, the 6th Circuit ruling is a sign the judicial ground is shifting, for the better.  For the first time a federal circuit court declared that a registry law is punishment — a big deal because so many courts have claimed that all the burdens and consequences of registration, with threat of felony prosecution for non-compliance, are nothing more than an administrative scheme.   Over the years Michigan has changed its laws and imposed more and harsher penalties on registrants.  The 6th Circuit ruled that piling on additional penalties retrospectively is unconstitutional and violates the ex post facto clause.  There are other remarkable features of the opinion, the 6th Circuit assails registration laws for creating “moral lepers.”   Now the legal and legislative fight for reason and justice resumes in Michigan, best wishes to the anonymous individuals who have been fighting for years for their rights, and their tenacious legal eagles led by Paul Reingold of the Michigan Clinical Law Program at the University of Michigan Law School and Miriam Aukerman of the Michigan ACLU.  More below about both cases and links to the lowr court decisions, have a look!  -Bill Dobbs, The Dobbs Wire




Minneapolis Star Tribune | Oct. 2, 2017

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging Minnesota sex offender program

A setback to efforts that have challenged the constitutionality of the MSOP.



By Stephen Montemayor and Chris Serres


The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota’s treatment system for sex offenders, another setback to a long-standing series of efforts to reform the program. The Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), which confines about 720 offenders at secure treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter, has been the target of repeated legal challenges for its practice of confining offenders indefinitely after they have already completed their prison terms.


In June 2015, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank in St. Paul declared the MSOP unconstitutional, citing the program’s low rate of release and lack of regular risk evaluations of offenders. But after reviewing the program, a three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis concluded earlier this year that Minnesota provided adequate constitutional protections, including the right to petition for release.


Dan Gustafson, the lead attorney for the class of sex offenders who sued over the program, expressed disappointment Monday that justices wouldn’t review an appellate opinion that he said “essentially removes the possibility of federal court review of state action dealing with fundamental rights.”  Gustafson said that remaining challenges to the MSOP now are limited to state court litigation or changes imposed by the Legislature. For now, however, he said his clients “continue to face the prospect of lifetime commitment at MSOP that admittedly fails to safeguard their rights.”  The Supreme Court’s decision “should concern everyone who believes that the federal courts should jealously guard the constitutional rights of groups of unpopular citizens threatened by popular political decisions,” Gustafson said in a statement.  MORE:



MinnPost | Sept. 28, 2017 | By Briana Bierschbach

The legal fight over Minnesota’s sex offender program could have ramifications throughout the country


Karsjens v. Piper

US Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, Case No. 15-3485

Decision filed Jan. 3, 2017:

Oral argument, April 12, 2016 — archived audio:





ACLU of Michigan | Oct. 2, 2017

Statement:  SCOTUS Denies Review of Appeals Court Decision Striking Down Michigan’s Sex Offender Law

Decision Means State Legislature Must Repair Failed Registry


Detroit Free Press | Oct. 2, 2017 | By Todd Spangler

Michigan’s appeal of sex offender registry law turned back by Supreme Court


By Todd Spangler


An appellate court decision saying Michigan can’t impose its sex offender registration law on people retroactively will not be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning the law may have to be changed. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said the decision by the Supreme Court not to take up the case “effectively requires the Michigan legislature to replace the existing law, thus creating an opportunity to reform Michigan’s registry.”  Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said Snyder’s office will “work with the attorney general and Michigan State Police on next steps.”


In its appeal, the state argued that the registration law should be allowed to stand and imposed no more than “minor and indirect” effects on past offenders. The Sixth Circuit, in a three-judge decision, found otherwise, saying the registration law “brands registrants as moral lepers solely on the basis of a prior conviction” and “consigns them to years, if not a lifetime, of existence on the margins, not only of society, but often, as the record in this case makes painfully evident, from their own families, with whom, due to school-zone restrictions, they may not even live.”


“Courts have repeatedly recognized that Michigan’s sex offender registry is not just unconstitutional, but it’s an abject failure,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney. “Our communities deserve effective public-safety measures that are based in facts and research, not wasteful and counterproductive policies based in fear. We look forward to working with the legislature on a common-sense approach that serves our communities.”  MORE:



Associated Press via New York Times | Oct. 2, 2017

Supreme Court Declines Michigan Sex Offender Registry Case


By The Associated Press


Michigan’s sex offender registry law must be rewritten after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a decision that found the state was treating people as “moral lepers” by saddling them with excessive restrictions.  The Supreme Court turned down an appeal from the state, 13 months after a federal appeals court struck down many retroactive rules as unconstitutional.


In 2006, Michigan lawmakers changed the law to prohibit registrants from living, working or even loitering within 1,000 feet of a school. Five years later, the Legislature said registrants should be divided into three tiers solely on the type of conviction, not based on any individual assessment. The rules were made retroactive.


“The Legislature is going to have to go back and address these issues,” said Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit with University of Michigan law school. “This requires the Legislature to adopt laws that keep us safe and are grounded in research and fact.”  MORE:



Does v. Snyder – decision filed Aug. 25, 2016

US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Case Nos. 15-1536/2346/2486

Decision filed Aug. 25, 2016:

Audio of oral argument – Part One–Jan. 27, 2016    Part Two–Apr. 27, 2016



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