In 2012, the ACLU, along with the University of Michigan Clinical Law Program, filed a lawsuit – called Does I – challenging SORA on behalf of six individual registrants. In August 2016, the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Michigan’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) is punishment and that major parts of the law cannot be retroactively applied. The Court, citing research showing that public sex offender registries actually make the public less safe, emphasized the law simply does not work. The district court had previously ruled that other parts of the law were also unconstitutional.
Despite these rulings, this ineffective and unconstitutional law was still being enforced against roughly 44,000 Michigan registrants. In June 2018, the ACLU, along with the University of Michigan Clinical Law Program and the Oliver Law Group, brought a class action lawsuit – called Does II— to ensure that all Michigan’s registrants obtain the benefit of the rulings in the earlier case.
On February 14, 2020, the district court applied those previous rulings to all Michigan registrants. On April 6, 2020, the district court issued an interim order preventing the state from enforcing any registration, verification, school zone, and fee violations of SORA from February 14, 2020, during the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter until registrants get notice of their duties. An amended final judgment entered on August 26, 2021.
In response to these decisions, the legislature has passed a new SORA which went into effect on March 24, 2021. The Does II lawsuit does not address the new law. Rather, we have asked the court for final judgment to prevent the state from prosecuting people for old SORA violations (generally before March 24, 2021, or before notice was received of the new statute).
In addition, the Michigan Supreme Court recently decided in People v. Betts that the old SORA cannot be retroactively applied to those individuals whose last registrable offense was committed before the 2011 SORA amendments. That decision found that many aspects of the old SORA resembled punishment. That decision did not address the new SORA.
The ACLU does not believe that the new law is constitutional and thinks it has done little to fix Michigan’s bloated and ineffective registry. The ACLU is actively working to figure out how to best challenge the new SORA. It takes time to develop a strong legal strategy, so the ACLU will provide updates as they are available. The ACLU will provide updates on any challenges it makes against the new SORA.