A Cass County resident recently wrote me to ask why a particular sex offender didn’t have to comply with the same laws that other sex offenders do.
I think the resident posed it as a rhetorical question, to point out that this guy was getting away with breaking laws.
But the fact is the offender doesn’t have to comply with the same laws as other offenders.
The reason lies in an unusual provision in the Missouri Constitution that forbids retrospective application of civil laws. Missouri is one of five states to contain such a provision.
So although Missouri passed a “buffer zone” law forbidding certain sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools or day cares, it only applies to offenders whose crimes occurred after June 5, 2006, when the law was last altered.
And although the state passed another law that restricts certain activities, including the distribution of candy, by sex offenders on Halloween, it only applies to offenders whose crimes occurred after Aug. 28, 2008.
Some prosecutors tried to apply the new laws to offenders whose crimes were committed before the laws took effect, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in 2010 that was unconstitutional.
In 2006, the provision resulted in thousands of sex offenders getting wiped from the registry because their crimes occurred before the registry existed. They were added back in 2009 after a federal law went into effect that required registration for all sex offenders, but that didn’t affect other state laws restricting sex offenders.
The patchwork of applicable laws can be so complicated that prosecutors say they need a flow chart to figure out which laws apply to which offenders.
So it’s no surprise that people are confused by sex offenders who appear to be flaunting the state’s laws.
Another complicating wrinkle is that certain restrictions apply to some sex offenders while they are still on probation, but not once they are finished with state supervision.
For example, the Cass County resident wondered why the sex offender could work at a business that employs teenagers. He also allegedly lives near a youth sports area.
His probation contained 10 restrictions, including that he have no contact with minors and avoid places that entertain or cater to children, like zoos and libraries. But he completed probation years ago and those restrictions no longer apply.
Legislators have tried at least three times since 2008 to allow citizens to vote to change the constitution, to allow the laws regarding sex offenders to be applied retrospectively. The most recent effort died last week when it failed to pass the House Judiciary Committee.
But experts say a constitutional amendment may not legally permit laws already on the books to be used retrospectively because the right has already been vested. Laws passed in the future, however, could benefit from the change.