Saturday, July 08, 2000

Law on sex offenders upheld

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Kentucky's law requiring sex offenders to be classified and registered and their whereabouts made public is constitutional, the state Court of Appeals said in two rulings Friday.

        The law is neither double jeopardy — two punishments for one crime — nor an unwarranted invasion of privacy, the court said in rulings by separate panels of judges.

        Instead, the law is regulatory, aimed at public safety, the rulings said. Even a requirement of lifetime sex-offender registration “is not unduly onerous compared to the commonwealth's interest in protecting the public,” the court said.

        The statute is Kentucky's version of “Megan's Law,” named for Megan Kanka, a New Jersey child who was raped and murdered by a repeat sex offender who had been released into her neighborhood without public notice.

        The case prompted Congress to pressure states to enact sex-offender laws. Their common theme is that no sex offender should be released into an unsuspecting community. Kentucky enacted a sex-offender registration law in 1994.

        The law was amended in 1998 to require an assessment of the risk each offender's release posed to the public. It was amended again this year to toughen the registration rules.

        Both rulings Friday came in appeals by men who were convicted before 1994 and classified in 1999 as “high risk” offenders: William Keith Hyatt Jr., who for years sexually brutalized a female relative in Anderson County, and Dennis Gilbert Hall, who sodomized a 6-year-old boy in Woodford County.

        Mr. Hyatt pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in 1991 and to second-degree rape and sodomy in 1993. His prison sentences totaled 10 years. Mr. Hall was convicted of sexual abuse and sodomy and sentenced to seven years.

        In Mr. Hyatt's case, the appel late panel ordered a new risk-assessment hearing in Anderson Circuit Court because a psychologist's report for the judge had arrived only 90 minutes beforehand. Mr. Hyatt's lawyer had no time to digest the report or prepare a rebuttal, including the calling of expert witnesses, the court said.

        The court dismissed Mr. Hyatt's claim that he was being retroactively subjected to a double punishment, though conceding “it would be intellectually dishonest” to deny the deterrence value of sex-offender registration.

        “If a sex offender knows that law enforcement officials are aware of the location of his residence and place of employment, the sex offender may be less likely to commit another sex crime,” Judge Joseph Huddleston of Bowling Green wrote for the panel.

        However, “we cannot say that the statutes punish prisoners twice,” Mr. Huddleston wrote. Instead, they have a “regulatory purpose.”


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