Ruling could signal future change to Tennessee's sex offender registry

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Posted at 10:26 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 23:43:40-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Could hundreds of sex offenders be removed from the state’s sex offender registry? That’s the worry from some victim advocates following a federal court decision this week affecting two convicted sex offenders in Tennessee.

The lawsuit was filed by two anonymous convicted sex offenders, John Doe #1, and John Doe #2, who said Tennessee's sex offender registry act should not apply to them.

That law, passed in 2004, required the two to register as sex offenders and obey distance requirements when finding a place to live or work.

But the two committed their crimes before the state legislature created the sex offender registry; so this week, a federal court ruled the registry was unconstitutional with regard to the two sex offenders because the registry punishment was created Ex Post Facto – or “after the fact” of their original crime.

"If you commit the crime, they cannot increase the punishment later, just on the whim of the legislature," said Ed Yarbrough, attorney for the two offenders.

But the bigger impact could still lie ahead: the decision could open the door for someone to challenge Tennessee's entire sex offender registry --- potentially lining up any sex offender who committed their crime before 2004, to be removed from it.

Nashville's Sexual Assault Center says that could discourage current and future victims of sexual assault from coming forward to report an already underreported crime.

"We would worry that victims and survivors of sexual assault would feel more discouraged and less empowered to come forward and report their abuse," said Rachel Freeman with the Nashville Sexual Assault Center.

But the attorney for the two sex offenders now off the list says constitutional rights exist for everyone, from victims to even sex offenders.

"The attitude that they're sex offenders, that it doesn't matter what we do to them, we can be as hard on them as we want to because we don't like them, that's not the American way," Yarbrough said. "That's not the principles that our constitution stands for."