Smith v. Doe
538 U.S. 84 (2003)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 2002

Syllabus

SMITH ET AL. v. DOE ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

No. 01-729. Argued November 13, 2002-Decided March 5, 2003

Under the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act (Act), any sex offender or child kidnaper incarcerated in the State must register with the Department of Corrections within 30 days before his release, providing his name, address, and other specified information. If the individual is at liberty, he must register with local law enforcement authorities within a working day of his conviction or of entering the State. If he was convicted of a single, nonaggravated sex crime, the offender must provide annual verification of the submitted information for 15 years. If he was convicted of an aggravated sex offense or of two or more sex offenses, he must register for life and verify the information quarterly. The offender's information is forwarded to the Department of Public Safety, which maintains a central registry of sex offenders. Some of the data, such as fingerprints, driver's license number, anticipated change of address, and whether the offender has had medical treatment afterwards, are kept confidential. The offender's name, aliases, address, photograph, physical description, description, license and identification numbers of motor vehicles, place of employment, date of birth, crime, date and place of conviction, length and conditions of sentence, and a statement as to whether the offender is in compliance with the Act's update requirements or cannot be located are, however, published on the Internet. Both the Act's registration and notification requirements are retroactive.

Respondents were convicted of aggravated sex offenses. Both were released from prison and completed rehabilitative programs for sex offenders. Although convicted before the Act's passage, respondents are covered by it. Mter the initial registration, they are required to submit quarterly verifications and notify the authorities of any changes. Both respondents, along with the wife of one of them, also a respondent here, brought this action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, seeking to declare the Act void as to them under, inter alia, the Ex Post Facto Clause, U. S. Const., Art. I, § 10, cl. 1. The District Court granted petitioners summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit disagreed in relevant part, holding that, because its effects were punitive, the Act violates the Ex Post Facto Clause.


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Held: Because the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act is nonpunitive, its retroactive application does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause. Pp.92-106.

(a) The determinative question is whether the legislature meant to establish "civil proceedings." Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U. S. 346,361. If the intention was to impose punishment, that ends the inquiry. If, however, the intention was to enact a regulatory scheme that is civil and nonpunitive, the Court must further examine whether the statutory scheme is so punitive either in purpose or effect as to negate the State's intention to deem it civil. E. g., ibid. Because the Court ordinarily defers to the legislature's stated intent, ibid., only the clearest proof will suffice to override that intent and transform what has been denominated a civil remedy into a criminal penalty. See, e. g., ibid. P.92.

(b) The Alaska Legislature's intent was to create a civil, nonpunitive regime. The Court first considers the statute's text and structure, Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U. S. 603, 617, asking whether the legislature indicated either expressly or impliedly a preference for one label or the other, Hudson v. United States, 522 U. S. 93, 99. Here, the statutory text states the legislature's finding that sex offenders pose a high risk of reoffending, identifies protecting the public from sex offenders as the law's primary interest, and declares that release of certain information about sex offenders to public agencies and the public will assist in protecting the public safety. This Court has already determined that an imposition of restrictive measures on sex offenders adjudged to be dangerous is a legitimate nonpunitive governmental objective. Hendricks, 521 U. S., at 363. Here, as in Hendricks, nothing on the statute's face suggests that the legislature sought to create anything other than a civil scheme designed to protect the public from harm. Id., at 361. The contrary conclusion is not required by the Alaska Constitution's inclusion of the need to protect the public as one of the purposes of criminal administration. Where a legislative restriction is an incident of the State's power to protect the public health and safety, it will be considered as evidencing an intent to exercise that regulatory power, and not a purpose to add to the punishment. E. g., Flemming v. Nestor, supra, at 616. Other formal attributes of a legislative enactment, such as the manner of its codification or the enforcement procedures it establishes, are probative of the legislature's intent, see, e. g., Hendricks, 521 U. S., at 361, but are open to debate in this case. The Act's notification provisions are codified in the State's Health, Safety, and Housing Code, confirming the conclusion that the statute was intended as a nonpunitive regulatory measure. Cf. ibid. The fact that the Act's registration provisions are codified in the State's Code of Criminal Procedure is not


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Full Text of Opinion

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