Doe v. Phillips

Decision Date30 June 2006
Docket NumberNo. SC 86573.,SC 86573.
PartiesJane DOE I, et al., Appellants, v. Thomas PHILLIPS, et al., Respondents.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Arthur A. Benson, II, Jamie K. Lansford, Kansas City, for appellants.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Michael Pritchett, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, Lisa Noel Gentleman, Office of the County Counselor, Kansas City, for respondents.


Appellants are a group of Missouri residents. None of them have been adjudicated to be a sexually violent predator (SVP), but respondents allege all nonetheless are required to register as sex offenders because each has previously been convicted of or pled guilty to crimes that make them subject to the registration provisions of sections 589.400 to 589.425.1 The registration requirements, popularly known as "Megan's Law," require affected persons to register with designated authorities at various intervals and to notify authorities when they change their residence. They also permit publication of affected persons' names, addresses, photographs and prior triggering offenses.

Appellants filed suit in Jackson County against selected law enforcement officials attempting to prevent further enforcement of the sexual offender registry statutes through declaratory and injunctive relief. To protect their privacy, appellants have sued as Jane Does I-III and John Does I-VIII and are hereafter referred to as "the Does." They alleged that, while it may be proper to apply the registration and notification requirements to SVPs and other violent sexual offenders, it is unconstitutional to apply it to relatively minor offenders such as themselves. They appeal the judgment denying their claims.

During the pendency of this appeal, Missouri's Megan's Law was modified. H.B. 1698, 93rd Gen. Assem., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Mo.2006). The amended law expands restrictions on SVPs, adds additional crimes to its coverage, and excludes or allows petitions for removal from the registry for various non-violent offenses, including offenses of which some of the Does pleaded or were found guilty, effectively mooting those particular claims.

This Court rejects the other Does' arguments that Missouri's Megan's Law violates their due process and equal protection rights under the Missouri Constitution. This Court further rejects their arguments that the law violates Missouri's constitutional prohibitions of ex post facto laws, bills of attainder, and special laws.

The only respect in which this Court finds merit to the Does' challenge to Missouri's Megan's Law is an extremely narrow one. The Does are correct that the portions of the law imposing an affirmative duty to register based solely on pleas or convictions for conduct committed prior to enactment of Megan's Law on January 1, 1995, some eleven and one-half years ago, violates Missouri's constitutional prohibition of laws "retrospective in ... operation." To this extent, and only to this extent, Megan's Law's registration requirements may not be enforced as to this small group of persons.

This invalidation is very limited in nature. SVPs are still fully required to register and comply with all aspects of Megan's Law because their obligations are based on findings that they are SVPs and not merely on pre-Megan's Law criminal conduct. Persons who pled or were found guilty after January 1, 1995, or who committed additional crimes subject to Megan's Law after that date, are fully subject to Megan's Law's relevant requirements. Further, even as to those Does who may not be required to fulfill the affirmative duties imposed directly on them by Megan's Law, Missouri's constitutional prohibition on laws retrospective in their operation does not prohibit others from publishing information about them in the manner permitted by Megan's Law.

A. The Does' Constitutional Allegations.

The Does are a group of eleven offenders who pled or were found guilty of a wide variety of crimes that are sexual in nature or involve abuse of children, as discussed in more detail in section III.D. None of them have been adjudicated to be SVPs.

The Does bring their claims under the Missouri Constitution, which they argue offers broader protections from sex offender registration requirements than does the United States Constitution. They assert that Megan's Law constitutes an ex post facto law or one retrospective in its operation, both of which are separately prohibited by article I, section 13, of the Missouri Constitution, which states "no ex post facto law, nor law impairing the obligation of contracts, or retrospective in its operation... can be enacted."

The Does also argue Megan's Law violates their substantive due process liberty right to privacy and avoidance of stigma, as well as what they call their liberty interest in exercising personal choice and freedom once they have completed their sentences, probation or parole. Alternatively, they argue that the law's restrictions and requirements violate their rights under Missouri's equal protection clause because they apply indiscriminately both to those convicted of serious or violent sexual crimes and to those who pled guilty to minor crimes to avoid the embarrassment of a trial and received only a suspended imposition of sentence (SIS), without proof of future dangerousness. Finally, they argue it is an unconstitutional special law or a bill of attainder.

The case was submitted based on a stipulation of the parties supplemented by other testimony and evidence provided to the court during the litigation process. The trial court entered judgment against the Does on all claims. They appeal directly to this Court because they challenge the validity of a Missouri statute. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3.

B. Federal Registration Requirements.

The federal sex offender registration act (SORA)2 requires that states, to continue to receive certain federal funding, must pass laws requiring a person to register if convicted of "a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor" or a sexually violent offense, unless at the time of the crime the person was under 19 and the conduct was criminal due only to the victim's age. 42 U.S.C.A. sec. 14071(a)(1)(A), (a)(3)(A) (2005) (emphasis added). SORA narrowly defines the phrase "a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor" as only those state crimes that are comparable to or exceed the range of offenses that violate SORA. Id. at (a)(3)(A). It only applies to persons who have convictions. A person with multiple or aggravated offense convictions, or who is an SVP, must register for life; other offenders must register for 10 years. Id. at (a)(1), (b)(6). States were required to enact registration statutes within 3 years. Id. at (g).

C. Missouri's Megan's Law prior to June 2006.

Missouri first enacted its version of Megan's Law in 1994, effective January 1, 1995. 1994 Mo. Laws 1131; Secs. 566.600 to 566.625, RSMo 1994. Megan's Law imposes registration and notification requirements on persons committing crimes listed in chapter 566, certain other sexual crimes, and certain crimes that are not inherently sexual in nature but the legislature believes to be associated with a risk of sexual offenses against minors, such as child kidnapping. Secs. 589.400 to 589.425.

The purpose of Missouri's Megan's Law, and of similar acts in other states, is to "protect children from violence at the hands of sex offenders," J.S. v. Beaird, 28 S.W.3d 875, 876 (Mo. banc 2000), and to respond to the known danger of recidivism among sex offenders. Connecticut Dept. of Pub. Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1, 4, 123 S.Ct. 1160, 155 L.Ed.2d 98 (2003); Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84, 103, 123 S.Ct. 1140 155 L.Ed.2d 164 (2003). Cf. sec. 43.540, RSMo Supp. (1989) (implementing procedures for youth service agencies to conduct criminal background checks of persons working in direct contact with minors).

Prior to 2006, Missouri's law went beyond federal registration requirements by requiring registration not just by persons who committed crimes in the range of those listed in the federal SORA,3 but also by persons convicted of crimes such as parental kidnapping or child abuse and by those who were not convicted but pled guilty and received an SIS. Compare sec. 589.400.1(1), with 42 U.S.C.A. sec. 14071(a)(1), (3).

Each person subject to Missouri's law had to register with the "chief law enforcement official of the county in which such person resides," sec. 589.400.2, and update that registration at least yearly. Sec. 589.414.6. Predatory or persistent sexual offenders, those who failed to register or filed false information, and offenders whose triggering crime involved a minor were required to report in person every 90 days, for life, "unless all offenses requiring registration [were] reversed, vacated or set aside" or the offender was pardoned. Secs. 589.400.3, 589.414.5.

D. Missouri's 2006 Revisions to Megan's Law.

H.B. 1698, signed into law June 5, 2006, significantly modifies Megan's Law. H.B. 1698, 93rd Gen. Assem., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Mo.2006).4 It adds additional sexual offenses involving children and other potentially vulnerable persons, and requires offenders to report twice rather than once a year and to provide an updated photograph yearly. Sec. 589.414.6, H.B. 1698.5

But, the 2006 revisions remove registration requirements for persons whose convictions were for: (1) kidnapping or felonious restraint by a child's parent or guardian or (2) non-sexual child abuse under section 568.060. Sec. 589.400.6, H.B. 1698. These offenses have never required registration under the acts of most other states.

The 2006 revisions also significantly modify the length of time for which registration is required. Those who have committed the most serious offenses or who are repeat offenders must continue to register for life. But,...

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    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
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    ...S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). Whether a statute is unconstitutional is a question of law, the review of which is de novo. Doe I v. Phillips, 194 S.W.3d 833, 841 (Mo. banc 2006). Because a statute is cloaked in a presumption of constitutionality, an appellate court may find the statute unco......
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3 books & journal articles
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