Sex offender law faces ruling

LINCOLN — A federal judge probably will block parts of Nebraska’s new sex offender law from taking effect Jan. 1.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf said he won’t issue a ruling until next week. But he indicated at a hearing Wednesday that he was inclined to bar enforcement of two provisions in the law.

One would require registered sex offenders to consent to searches of their computers or other electronic devices. Refusal to consent would be a felony under the law.

The other provision would bar people who have commited offenses against children from using social networking Web sites such as Facebook or MySpace. The provision applies to sites open to children under age 18.

Kopf said he was inclined to let stand other portions of the law, including a requirement to make public the names of all sex offenders.

The state currently makes public only the names of offenders judged to be at high risk to reoffend. Names of those at moderate risk are disclosed to schools, day care centers and religious and youth organizations.

Kopf will consider whether to block a requirement that offenders let authorities install software on their computers and other electronic devices to monitor their Internet use.

A group of 20 convicted sex offenders, along with 11 family members or employers, filed a lawsuit last week asking for an injuction against the new law. The plaintiffs in the suit were identified only as John or Jane Does.

The suit was filed by Omaha lawyer Stu Dornan, a former Douglas County attorney.

At the hearing, Dornan argued that the new law is punitive and would unconstitutionally interfere with his clients’ right to work, travel and raise families.

“This bill is designed to pile on penalties of a criminal nature,” he said.

Dornan pointed to the provisions making public all sex offender names and requiring offenders to register in person with authorities before spending more than three days in any one place.

But Kopf said those issues are policy matters that should be left up to the Legislature.

He also said that, except for the parts about social networking sites and the required consent for searches, the Nebraska law follows a federal law which has been upheld in several court cases.

In his argument, David Cookson, Nebraska’s chief deputy attorney general, said it probably would be unconstitutional to require that offenders consent to searches.

But he said that monitoring software should be allowed, just as the courts have allowed laws requiring GPS monitoring of sex offenders.

Describing social networking sites as today’s playgrounds and parks, Cookson said: “We’re asking for the same capability in the virtual world that we have in the physical world to track and monitor people.”


Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 7:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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