The Idaho legislature is being sued. A lawsuit was recently filed challenging the state’s sex offender registry act.
The lawsuit was filed by 104 registered sex offenders across the Gem State. There are close to 40 defendants named in the suit, including Idaho’s Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Members of the Department of Corrections, the entire state Sexual Offender Management Board, and several county sheriffs are also named in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs believe the registry requirements violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution. At least 15 different sections are claimed to have been violated.
The lawsuit is 75 pages long, each with various complaints from sex offenders on how their circumstances show a violation of their personal rights.
“The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the act on several different grounds, including, but limited to, ex post facto violations, due process, equal protection, and cruel and unusual punishment,” said Daniel Brown, an attorney at Fuller Law Offices, who is representing the plaintiffs.
In other words, that means some of the biggest complaints of the lawsuit are first, that some of the offenders were convicted and sentenced in the late 1980s or early 1990s, which was before Idaho’s Sex Offender Registry Act even existed.
Second, after ten years, most offenders are eligible to petition for removal from the registry. Some plaintiffs claim recent amendments to the act have eliminated their right to be able to petition.
Third, those moving from other states which did not require sex offenders to register, have to register when moving to Idaho. While some offenders have already served out their sentences in other states, they still have to register for life in Idaho.
A fourth major complaint is that years after their conviction, some of the offenders had their sentences later changed to aggravated, or more serious charges.
Brown said all of these circumstances violate a code in either the U.S. or Idaho Constitutions. He said while these are not all the violations the lawsuit covers, they are some of the biggest.
“We believe very strongly in our case,” Brown said. “We believe that there are issues that absolutely need to be examined. It’s not necessarily seeking to do away with the registry entirely. What we seek is a fair examination of each one of these sex offenders so that the punishment or the requirements they have to fulfill in the future are reasonable.”
The attorney general, the sheriffs, and all others are being sued in their official capacity, not on a personal basis. Brown said they are all people, or heads of organizations, that are in charge of enforcing the registry laws in the state, which is why they are being sued.
One of those named is Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen. He said currently, Bannock County has about 240 registered sex offenders.
He said he’s not worried about the lawsuit, because no one is in the wrong. He, like the other defendants, was doing his job.
“I don’t make laws. I enforce the laws,” Nielsen said. “If we make a mistake, then there are avenues in that direction. But as far as obeying the laws and enforcing the laws, that’s what I took an oath to do. I may not even like some of the laws but that isn’t my option. I’ve got to enforce.”
He said while he can appreciate the concerns of the 104 plaintiffs, he said the victims in sexual offense-related cases need to be considered too.
“I understand the situation,” Nielsen said. “They need to understand and see just how serious that is. You cannot violate anybody and not have major consequences.”
Nielsen said he understands the frustrations with the registry act, but he also understands the act was put in place to protect the public in the best way the legislature knew how.
“‘If you can’t do the time, then you probably shouldn’t do the crime,’ is echoing in my ears through this,” Nielsen said. “But on the other hand, it is fairly open and shut and maybe needs to have a few latitudes in it.”
Nielsen said either way, it’s for the federal court to decide and the lawsuit will have to runs its course.
Brown said there’s no timeline yet on when the lawsuit will be heard in court. He said the attorneys are still working on gathering research. He also said there are some additional plaintiffs trying to get on board with the lawsuit as well. So Brown said it’s just in the early stages right now.
Most other sheriffs in Southeastern Idaho have also been named in the lawsuit. The Bear Lake County Sheriff, Bonneville County, Bingham County, Caribou County and Franklin County are all listed. A complete list of defendants is listed below. All county sheriffs being sued are because of plaintiffs listed in those counties.
List of defendants (all sued in their official capacity):
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden
Kevin Kempf, Director of Idaho Department of Correction
Terry Kirkham, Chief of Parole and Probation Division of Department of Correction
Idaho Sexual Offender Management Board (11 members)
Ada County Sheriff
Bannock County Sheriff
Bear Lake County Sheriff
Bingham County Sheriff
Bonneville County Sheriff
Canyon County Sheriff
Caribou County Sheriff
Cassia County Sheriff
Elmore County Sheriff
Franklin County Sheriff
Gem County Sheriff
Gooding County Sheriff
Jefferson County Sheriff
Jerome County Sheriff
Lemhi County Sheriff
Lincoln County Sheriff
Minidoka County Sheriff
Nez Perce County Sheriff
Teton County Sheriff
Twin Falls County Sheriff
Valley County Sheriff