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SC Supreme Court Rules Lifelong Sex Offender Registry is Unconstitutional

On June 9, 2021, the South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a state law requiring sex offenders to register for life is not constitutional without a prior judicial review process, especially for individuals who demonstrate a low risk of reoffending.  

The state’s Sex Offender Registry Act is nearly 30 years old and among the strictest in the country, requiring lifetime registration in a public database and checking in with local authorities at least twice or four times a year – for more offenders. 

The June 9 order calls for the General Assembly to change the law and align South Carolina with other states that offers offenders a way out of the registry within 12 months (until June 2022). Currently, the only way a person can be removed from the registry is if the offense is overturned, reversed, or vacated on appeal, or the person is pardoned. 

The SC Supreme Court case stems from a lawsuit filed by Dennis Powell, who was convicted of criminal solicitation of a minor after law enforcement officials said he chatted with a 12-year-old girl—who was actually an undercover officer—and planned to meet her at a Lexington skating rink in 2008. After he pled guilty in 2009, Powell was sentenced to a two-year prison term and ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, which he has done for over a decade. 

After two doctors said Powell was low-risk of reoffending, he filed a petition in 2016 with Circuit Court, stating that lifetime registration was excessive and deprived him of due process and equal protection. Although the Circuit Court ruled in his favor and ordered Powell’s removal from the state registry, the State Law Enforcement Division appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court upheld the Circuit Court decision, agreeing that the state’s registry deprives offenders of their due process rights and fails to track which individuals have a low risk of reoffending; therefore, “dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement,” Chief Justice Donald Beatty wrote. 

However, the judges did reject an argument that publishing the registry online violates South Carolina law, stating the database would continue to be available on the Internet for public viewing. 

If you have been accused of a sex crime in South Carolina or interested in getting out of state’s sex offender registry, contact Hisker Law Firm, PC today at (864) 610-1277. Serving clients in the Greenville, Duncan, or Spartanburg area! 

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