US judge rules Colorado sex offender register unconstitutional
Judge's gavel (Shutterstock)

A federal judge ruled that Colorado's sex offender registry law is cruel and unusual punishment, an opinion legal analysts said Friday could have wider implications.

U.S. District Court Judge William Matsch ruled on Thursday for three Colorado men who challenged in Denver federal court the law requiring convicted offenders to register with the state.

Their photographs, residences and other identifying information then become accessible on a website maintained by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

“(T)he effect of publication of the information required to be provided by registration is to expose the registrants to punishments inflicted not by the state but by their fellow citizens,” Matsch wrote in his 42-page opinion.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, whose office defended the law, said in a statement that while the opinion is “concerning,” it was narrowly tailored and the judge did not find the law as a whole was unconstitutional.

“I am committed to having a robust sex offender registry in our state that protects the public,” she said, adding that she has not yet decided if her office will file an appeal.

While the ruling just applies to the three men who sued, it could set a precedent if upheld on appeal, said Wil Smith, a longtime Colorado criminal defense attorney not involved in the case.

“If the case is appealed and upheld by the 10th Circuit (Court of Appeals), it would then be binding on all district courts within the circuit,” Smith said.

The federal 10th circuit includes courts in Colorado, Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

The three men's lawyer, Alison Ruttenberg, wrote in a court filing that there was “zero” proof the registry protected the public.

“Instead, the evidence was that the general public misuses the registry to ostracize, humiliate and harass the registrants and their friends and family,” she said.

Matsch agreed, noting offenders face a “serious threat of retaliation, violence, ostracism, shaming and other unfair and irrational treatment from the public.”

The judge also rejected the government’s assertion that the statute is not punitive.

“The register is telling the public – DANGER – STAY AWAY,” Matsch wrote.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)