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Amended lawsuit challenges Nevada law governing registration of sex offenders

CARSON CITY — An amended lawsuit has been filed challenging a 2007 Nevada law governing registration and community notification of sex offenders and seeking to block its implementation next month.

The lawsuit filed late Tuesday in Clark County District Court on behalf of unnamed plaintiffs identified as Does 1-17, argues Assembly Bill 579 is vague and overbroad in its application, and that the state is applying the law unequally and has no procedures for people to challenge their inclusion on the registry.

“AB579 provides zero due process and does not include any mechanism to either … correct errors in application or … remove offenders after they completed their applicable periods of registration,” Las Vegas attorneys Maggie McLetchie and Alina Shell wrote in the lawsuit.

The attorneys on Wednesday said they plan to file a separate motion for emergency relief to halt the law from taking effect July 1 until a thorough review by the court.

The lawsuit argues the law violates clients’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection; amounts to double jeopardy; and violates separation of powers and contract provisions.

Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said state attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

The Nevada Legislative passed the law in 2007 to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, but it has been on hold for years pending legal challenges. In January, the Nevada Supreme Court said implementation could proceed.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the law, though the latest lawsuit raises new legal issues.

Under Nevada’s previous law, people convicted of sex crimes were assessed on their risk of reoffending. Thousands of offenders who were deemed low risk, or a Tier 1, were not subject to community notification. Under the new law, which applies to offenses dating to 1956, tier levels are based on the offense committed, regardless of circumstances. Many offenders already deemed by a judge to be no threat to the community will have their names, photos and addresses available for public scrutiny.

Many previously classified as a Tier 1 were reassessed as a Tier 3 and will be subject to lifetime reporting requirements. The plaintiffs fear they will lose their jobs or businesses, be forced from their homes or have the safety of their families jeopardized when their employers and neighbors discover their status.

Vicki Henry, with the group Women Against Registry, also raised concerns about the law, saying it will “destroy the families of those who have lived a law-abiding life for the last 20, 30, 40 or 50 years.”

“We will have registrants losing their jobs, homes foreclosed on, and children beaten up, homes burned, property damaged and wives losing their jobs when someone learns they are married to a registrant,” she said in a statement.

She said the law will essentially “place a target on the backs of all living at any address listed on a public registry.”

Among other things, the lawsuit claims the state has tried to enforce the law against people convicted of offenses that are no longer crimes and against people who have obtained court order relieving them of their obligation to register as a sex offender.

One plaintiff, identified as Doe 3, pleaded guilty in 1961 when he was 19 years old in California to a misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure and annoying a minor. He was not required to register as an offender. Now 74 and the father of four adult children, he will be required to register as a Tier 1 offender and be subject to community notification.

Another, Doe 5, pleaded no contest in 1997 in Florida to one count of solicitation of a child via computer. At the time of sentencing, he received a withheld adjudication, meaning he has no criminal conviction, the lawsuit said. Earlier this month, the businessman was informed by Nevada that he would be classified as a Tier 3 and subject to lifetime registration and community notification. He also must report in person to law enforcement every three months.

Doe 7 was released for lifetime supervision by the state Parole Board in 2011 and in April a court terminated his requirement to register as a sex offender. But the Department of Public Safety told him this month that he would be designated as Tier 3.

The lawsuit also claims the law is unclear about how long different tiers must register for and when the clock starts, and fails to address how the state will identify people who were previously not required to register.

It further argues the law breaches deals some offenders reached years ago with prosecutors when they entered guilty pleas.

The law, the filing said, “is unjust, oppressive, vague, unenforceable, arbitrary and vindictive, and is equivalent to imposing new probation, parole, lifetime supervision or other criminal sanctions on plaintiffs.”

It also argued it will not promote public safety and will disrupt the criminal justice system by deterring defendants from entering into plea agreements.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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