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Nevada Supreme Court orders delay in enforcement of sex offender registration law


A new legal challenge has delayed the start of stricter registration requirements for sex offenders in Nevada.

The law, modeled after the federal Adam Walsh Act, would require many offenders who judges have said are not dangerous — including some who were as young as 14 at the time they committed a sex crime — to make their names, photos and addresses available to the public. Since Nevada lawmakers approved the law in 2007, pieces of it have gone before courts from the district to federal levels.

It was set to go into effect Feb. 1, but the Nevada Supreme Court put a temporary stop to it Thursday following a lawsuit filed by Las Vegas firm Langford McLetchie on behalf of 24 unnamed clients. The lawyers filed suit Jan. 16 in Clark County District Court to stop enforcement of the law, but on Jan. 28 Judge Douglas Smith rejected their request. So they went to the state’s high court.

Supreme Court justices said the lawyers raised more questions that deserve a second look. Among them: Is it constitutional for sex offenders who have already served their court-ordered time to have the rules changed at this point? And did Nevada legislators overlook public safety voting in this law?

The law applies to anyone convicted of a felony sex crime or crimes involving children since 1956. About 3,000 are on Nevada’s sex offender rolls now, and the Walsh Act is expected to dramatically increase that number. There’s no state estimate on how many more names could be added, or how much tracking them will cost.

Maggie McLetchie, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said Nevada’s version of the Walsh Act “is a mess.”

“Nobody really knows what to do with it,” she said. “We don’t have the resources to enforce it.”

Legislative records show state lawmakers signed off on the federal standards because they were worried Nevada might lose grant money for law enforcement. But they never discussed how much was at stake.

A 2008 report from the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, said it would cost more than $4 million to enforce the toughened registration requirements. The penalty for not doing that: the federal government could withhold about $180,000.

The latest suit to stop the Walsh Act in Nevada is against the agencies responsible for enforcing it, including the state attorney general and Division of Public Safety, the Clark County district attorney, the Metropolitan Police Department and the Henderson Police Department.

A spokeswoman for Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto’s office pointed to previous court rulings, including one from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that upheld Nevada’s law requiring sex offenders to be retroactively classified according to their crimes, not by their risk of re-offending.

“The Nevada Supreme Court entered a stay of enforcement so they have an opportunity to review this law and determine whether it should be implemented,” spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez said.

Under Nevada’s existing system, judges help determine whether sex offenders present a risk to the public or have been rehabilitated – particularly juvenile offenders.

The Walsh Act’s requirements can’t be changed. Beyond having their names listed on searchable websites, offenders must check in with police or probation officers more often and must register for 15 years, 25 years or for life, depending on the crime. They also cannot knowingly be within 1,000 feet of a place designated primarily for children. That won’t apply retroactively to the new class of offenders who already live near sites such as schools, but it will come into play if they move.

Opponents of the Walsh Act say it endangers those who appear on state websites and also puts their families at risk. It can also make it more difficult for offenders to find jobs.

In October, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional, but justices questioned whether lawmakers gave any thought to its effects on juveniles and public safety.

Contact reporter Adam Kealoha Causey at acausey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0361. Follow on Twitter @akcausey.

 

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