Kentucky Supremes Strike Down Sex Offender Law

FRANKFORT, Ky.—In a 5-2 vote, Kentucky's supreme court Thursday struck down a sex offender law that it said was improperly forced upon people who had been convicted of offenses before the law went into effect.

The justices ruled that it is unconstitutional according to both the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions to either impose or increase punishments on criminal acts retroactively.

In a swift reaction to the decision, state Attorney General Jack Conway said the opinion creates “serious concerns about the impact on public safety.”

He noted his office may seek U.S. Supreme Court review of the case. “As a parent, I am concerned that this ruling could open the door for sex offenders to be living next door to our schools and day care centers,” he said in a statement.

The majority had other issues with the law, citing concerns about the fact that the law did not distinguish between different types of crimes, but instead "imposed equally upon all offenders, with no consideration given to how dangerous any particular registrant may be to public safety.”

According to the, "The court said the crux of the case was whether the 2006 statute was punitive—and therefore violated the constructional ban on retroactive punishment. The majority—Justices Bill Cunningham, Mary C. Noble, Wil Schroder, Will T. Scott and Daniel J. Venters—compared the law to the Colonial-era practice of banishing an offender from the community, which it said was punishment. And the majority noted that offenders can be expelled from their homes when a school or day care center opens—even if the offender had lived there for years."

Two justices dissented: Justice Lizabeth Hughes Abramson and Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. Abramson noted that she was “dismayed” that the majority had “substituted its judgment for that of the General Assembly … with respect to a most difficult social problem,” adding that the law leaves “registered sex and child offenders completely free to live, work and participate in the community.”