Sex Offender Registration: Is It Punishment?

Florida statute section 943.0435 states that sexual offenders must register with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and Florida statute section 775.21 states that sexual predators must likewise register with FDLE.  Registration requirements include such things as having one's picture posted on the Internet, notifying the Sheriff's office when changing addresses (for the remainder of one's entire life), and having a driver's license which indicates that the driver is a registered sex offender or predator.


Sex offender registration statutes are fairly recent, however, and some registered sex offenders have argued that they should not have to register with FDLE because they committed their crimes before the sex offender statute was passed into law in the 1990's.  What difference does that make you might ask?  There is a concept in the law called ex post facto which means that a law cannot ordinarily punish conduct that was committed before that law went into effect.  For example, if someone committed a sex crime in 1990 but the sex offender registration did not go into effect until 1993, such a person might well argue that he should not have to register as a sex offender because he committed his crime before the sex offender registration law went into effect.


Although I personally find this argument to be persuasive, the United States Supreme Court does not.  In the case of Smith v. Doe, the High Court ruled that Alaska's sex-offender registration statute did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the Alaska State Legislature's intention in passing that particular law was not to punish sex offenders but rather to create a "civil, nonpunitive regime."


Since Smith v. Doe was decided in 2003, several Florida appellate courts have cited to that particular case in ruling that Florida sex offenders must also register with FDLE even if the crimes for which they were convicted were committed before the Florida sex-offender registration law went into effect.


In spite of all these cases to the contrary, Florida sex offender registration requirements still seem like punishment to me.

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