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Judge Finds Colorado Sex Offender Registry Unconstitutional

By Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4)- A federal court judge in Denver has called the public sex offender registry in Colorado "cruel and unusual punishment."

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation posts a list of registered sex offenders required under the law. It contains names, pictures, addresses, descriptions and more and readily available to anyone on the internet.

(credit: CBS)

But now, Federal Judge Richard Matsch has found that to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution. He wrote that the public has been given the "power to inflict punishments beyond those imposed through the court."

Alison Ruttenberg, the attorney for the sex offenders, told CBS4's Rick Sallinger they were often scarred for life because of all the public information available on the convicted criminals.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Alison Ruttenberg, the attorney for the sex offenders (credit: CBS)

"Making them at risk for vigilantes' action to have their houses burned down, beaten up or even killed that is cruel and unusual punishment," Ruttenberg said.

"There's not a single crime in Colorado that has been solved because of the sex offender registry. Sex offenders have probably the lowest recidivism rate of any felon and to single them out for this type of public ridicule and registration is irrational. It doesn't do anything to keep our community safer," she said.

(credit: CBS)

The judge found the posting of sex offender information to be a violation of two different amendments. The suit asked only for the three offenders' information to be removed. It was not filed as a class action.

"While it might feel safer to have a registry and know where those sex offenders are, those are only offenders who have been caught and convicted and are required to be on the registry. There are still a lot of other sex offenders out there we don't know about," said Brie Franklin, the Executive Director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "Sometimes there's a sense of false safety of being able to go out on a website and say, 'now I know where everybody is.' When in fact we don't know where everybody is."

CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Brie Franklin, the Executive Director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (credit: CBS)

Franklin says the registry isn't perfect, but has concerns the law has been around for too long, and this ruling takes into account the impacts on criminals too much.

"I think we always need to keep in mind that victim's should have rights too. The victims didn't choose to have this happen to them. Offenders made a choice to commit a crime and this is part of that punishment," Franklin said.

The Colorado Attorney General's office says it hasn't decided on if it will appeal the ruling. Ruttenberg says she thinks if it's appealed it could one day be heard in front of the Supreme Court.

Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he's been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

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