Appeals Courts Reign in Zealous Application of Sex Offender Registration Laws

Two appellate courts recently issued decisions reigning in over-zealous application of sex offender registration laws. These state laws typically provide that anybody found guilty of particular sex offenses is required to register with the police, providing specified information, which is then publicly posted on-line. Registrants are typically required to report to the police periodically, to inform the police of any change of residence or employment, and in some jurisdictions are restricted as to where they can live. The duration of the registration requirements varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may depend on the nature and severity of the crime for which they are convicted. The recent court decisions, turning on statutory interpretation and some common sense judgment, arose in some unusual circumstances.

The Supreme Court of Kansas ruled in State v. Coman, 2012 WL 106615 (March 30, 2012), that a man who pled guilty to a charge of bestiality should not be required to register under the Kansas Offender Registration Act. Reversing a 2-1 decision by the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court found that an ambiguity created by the Registration Act should be resolved in favor of the defendant under the rule of lenity in construing ambiguous criminal statutes.

Joshua Coman pled guilty to misdemeanor criminal sodomy after his former girlfriend discovered him in a sexually-compromising position with her pet Rottweiler in the garage of her house. Coman told her that he

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