Ninth Circuit Rules on Nevada's Sex Offender Laws

The battle over the changing face of laws concerning sex offenders in Nevada seems to have come to an end. The ACLU of Nevada has been working on protecting the rights of convicted offenders since the passage of Assembly Bill 579 and Senate Bill 471 during the 2007 legislative session.

A.B. 579 and S.B. 471 drastically changed how Nevada deals with sex offenders. A.B. 579 retroactively changed the categorization of sex offenders, so regardless of the crime, offenders who committed misdemeanors with any sexual element since July 1, 1956 would fall within the purview of registration and some notification requirements. Many rehabilitated, low risk offenders whom the state of Nevada determined were unlikely to re-offend could be retroactively classified as "high risk" offenders based solely on their conviction. Prior to the enactment of these laws, sex offenders had been individually assessed and classified based on psychological evaluations focusing on whether the offenders pose a risk to society and are likely to re-offend. S.B. 471 prohibited some offenders from “knowingly being” within 500 feet of certain locations, and was also being applied retroactively.

In 2008, the ACLU of Nevada filed suit against the implementation of these laws, and in April 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in the case. The Ninth Circuit upheld A.B. 579 as constitutional, including its retroactive application. The permanent injunction issued by the District Court in 2008 was lifted and A.B. 579 has gone into effect. However, the Ninth Circuit stated that the laws concerning certain residency requirements cannot be applied retroactively, and has upheld the injunction against S.B. 471.

This case was fundamentally about the limits on the power of government to impose sweeping retroactive punishment. The ACLU was concerned that if the Nevada legislature was allowed to impose laws retroactively in this context, it could pass other laws that take effect retroactively, violating the Constitution.

The ACLU continues to monitor and fight against the imposition of laws like these. Even though the outcome of this important case was not completely what we had hoped, it is encouraging to know that our efforts do not go unnoticed and the mission of the ACLU of protecting the rights of all Nevadans continues to be successful.