Constitutional Law and the Role of Scientific Evidence

Boston College Law Review | Feb. 22, 2017

Constitutional Law and the Role of Scientific Evidence: The Transformative Potential of Doe v. Snyder

by Melissa Hamilton

Excerpts: In the United States, sex offenders are uniquely regarded as moral lepers, in need of constant supervision and forced to the margins of society. The public’s fear of persons who have committed crimes of a sexual nature is so extreme that policymakers across jurisdictions have become convinced that traditional criminal law and sentencing regimes are inadequate to protect public safety. Thus, legislatures have adopted a variety of statutes—purportedly civil in nature—to manage sex offenders beyond their prison terms.

In late 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s concluded in Does #1–5 v. Snyder that Michigan’s sex offender registry and residency restriction law constituted an ex post facto punishment in violation of the constitution. In its decision, the Sixth Circuit engaged with scientific evidence that refutes moralized judgments about sex offenders, specifically that they pose a unique and substantial risk of recidivism.

Doe v. Snyder is a shining example of a court actually engaging with scientific evidence that refutes moralized judgments about a particularly disfavored group. Equally important, a reasonable interpretation of the Sixth Circuit’s opinion by many is that more of Michigan’s civil sex offender law, and other state laws like it, are now subject to a broader invalidation. MORE:

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