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Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin Sex Offender Registration Fee, Names John Doe Plaintiffs

Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin Sex Offender Registration Fee, Names John Doe Plaintiffs

by Derek Gilna

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s ruling that found Wisconsin’s statute for sex offender registration, notification and monitoring violated constitutional ex post facto provisions. The plaintiffs, two sex offenders who were convicted prior to the enactment of the state’s new registration and monitoring law, challenged the imposition of a $100 annual registration fee required by the statute, terming it a “fine.”

The district court found that such a fine “cannot constitutionally be imposed on persons who committed their sex crimes before the fee provision was enacted,” but upheld the law’s other registration requirements. Judge Richard Posner, writing for the Seventh Circuit panel, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously rejected ex post facto challenges to sex offender registration statutes, citing Smith v. Doe, 38 U.S. 84 (2003) as well as similar decisions from the Ninth, Sixth and Third Circuits.

The appellate court also found a lack of standing by the plaintiffs, who no longer resided in Wisconsin and had expressed their intent never to return to that state. Although Wisconsin officials insisted they still had lifetime jurisdiction over the plaintiffs despite their out-of-state residency, they conceded that enforcement of the state’s sex offender registration statute was unlikely if the plaintiffs did not reside in Wisconsin. That convinced the Court of Appeals that the plaintiffs were under no threat of sanctions for failing to obey the registration law, and therefore lacked standing to contest its provisions.

The Seventh Circuit also was not troubled by the $100 annual registration fee, finding it was a reasonable attempt by the government to obtain reimbursement for costs associated with maintaining sex offender records, and that the modest cost was not so high as to push the fee into the category of a fine. The plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed without prejudice.

Finally, the Court of Appeals took the unusual step of naming the plaintiffs, who had filed suit as “John Does” to protect their identities. The Court stated, “We have replaced those pseudonyms with the plaintiffs’ real names because, as explained at the end of this opinion, we do not think this a proper case in which to allow litigants to litigate under pseudonyms.” See: Mueller v. Raemisch, 740 F.3d 1128 (7th Cir. 2014).


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Related legal case

Mueller v. Raemisch