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Injunction Against Missouri Sex Offender Halloween Restrictions Issued, Then Vacated

by Matt Clarke

A Missouri federal judge issued an injunction against enforcement of a new Missouri law imposing Halloween-related restrictions on registered sex offenders. However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction on October 30, 2008.

As part of the general demonizing and harassment of registered sex offenders nationwide, the Missouri legislature passed a statute, R.S.Mo. § 589.426, that requires all registered sex offenders (RSOs) to: (1) avoid all Halloween-related contact with children; (2) remain inside their residences between 5:00pm and 10:30pm on Halloween unless required to be elsewhere for just cause such as employment or medical emergencies; (3) post a sign at their residences stating “No candy or treats at this residence”; and (4) leave all outside residential lighting off after 5:00pm on Halloween.

Assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union, two female and two male RSOs – three of whom had sole custody of minor children and old convictions for statutory rape – filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the statute and seeking a declaratory judgment that it was unconstitutional under the federal and Missouri Constitutions. The suit, filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and other state and federal laws, alleged the statute violated the federal Due Process Clause because it interfered with RSOs’ family obligations and was too vague to allow the plaintiffs to know how to deal with their own children and/or grandchildren or reasonably understand what constituted “just cause.”

Further, the plaintiffs claimed the statute violated the federal constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws and a state constitutional prohibition against retrospective laws because it was enacted after their crimes were committed and was being applied retrospectively.

On October 27, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Carol E. Jackson issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the statute, finding that the plaintiffs had met their burden of establishing irreparable harm and a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits for provisions (1) and (2) of the statute, but not (3) and (4). The preliminary injunction covered all RSOs affected by the statute. See: Doe v. Nixon, U.S.D.C. (SD MO), Case No. 4:08-cv-01518 (CEJ); 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87314.

The state sought an emergency appeal, and on October 30, 2008 the Eighth Circuit granted the state’s motion to stay the preliminary injunction. The parties subsequently agreed to dismiss their cross-appeals. The lawsuit is still pending; the plaintiffs are represented by ACLU of Eastern Missouri attorney Anthony E. Rothert, and a resolution of this case hopefully will be reached by next Halloween.

Additional source: New York Times

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Related legal case

Doe v. Nixon