Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe

538 U.S. 1

Case Year: 2003

Case Ruling: 9-0, Reversed

Opinion Justice: Rehnquist

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Concurring Opinions

Dissenting Opinions

Court Opinion Joiner(s):

Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, O'Connor, Scalia, Souter, Stevens, Thomas


1st Concurring Opinion

Author: Scalia


1st Dissenting Opinion



2nd Concurring Opinion

Author: Souter

Joiner(s): Ginsburg

2nd Dissenting Opinion



3rd Concurring Opinion

Author: Stevens


3rd Dissenting Opinion



Other Concurring Opinions:


Even after an individual has served out his or her prison sentence, states occasionally attempt to isolate that person from society. In two cases handed down in 2003, Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe and Smith v. Doe, the Court pointedly considered a variation on isolation: registration. While the legal challenges in these cases differed, the laws at issue--known as "Megan's Laws"--were similar. In 1994 Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act after eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted near his home in Minnesota in 1989 and after Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old New Jersey girl, was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1994 by a neighbor who, unknown to the victim's family, had prior convictions for sex offenses against children. This act called on the states to pass their own Megan's Laws, which require convicted sex offenders to register with the Department of Corrections (if incarcerated) or with the local police (if released from jail). A sex offender must provide various types of information, such as name, aliases, identifying features, address, place of employment, date of birth, conviction information, driver's license number, information about vehicles to which he or she has access, and postconviction treatment history. In a majority of states, much of that information is made available to the public via the Internet.

By 1996, every state, the District of Columbia, and the federal government had enacted some variation of Megan's Law. The Supreme Court, however, did not assess the constitutionality of such laws until 2003, when a convicted sex offender subject to Connecticut's Megan's Law filed an action on behalf of himself and other sex offenders. He claimed that the law violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause because it "deprive[d] him of a liberty interest--his reputation combined with the alteration of his status under state law--without notice or a meaningful opportunity to be heard.



We granted certiorari to determine whether the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit properly enjoined the public disclosure of Connecticut's sex offender registry. The Court of Appeals concluded that such disclosure both deprived registered sex offenders of a "liberty interest," and violated the Due Process Clause because officials did not afford registrants a predeprivation hearing to determine whether they are likely to be "currently dangerous."... Connecticut, however, has decided that the registry requirement shall be based on the fact of previous conviction, not the fact of current dangerousness. Indeed, the public registry explicitly states that officials have not determined that any registrant is currently dangerous. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals because due process does not require the opportunity to prove a fact that is not material to the State's statutory scheme.

"Sex offenders are a serious threat in this Nation."... "[T]he victims of sex assault are most often juveniles," and "[w]hen convicted sex offenders reenter society, they are much more likely than any other type of offender to be re-arrested for a new rape or sex assault."... Connecticut, like every other State, has responded to these facts by enacting a statute designed to protect its communities from sex offenders and to help apprehend repeat sex offenders. Connecticut's "Megan's Law" applies to all persons convicted of criminal offenses against a minor, violent and nonviolent sexual offenses, and felonies committed for a sexual purpose. Covered offenders must register with the Connecticut Department of Public Safety (DPS) upon their release into the community. Each must provide personal information (including his name, address, photograph, and DNA sample); notify DPS of any change in residence; and periodically submit an updated photograph. The registration requirement runs for 10 years in most cases; those convicted of sexually violent offenses must register for life....The Court of Appeals [held] that the Due Process Clause entitles class members to a hearing "to determine whether or not they are particularly likely to be currently dangerous before being labeled as such by their inclusion in a publicly disseminated registry."... Because Connecticut had not provided such a hearing, the Court of Appeals enjoined petitioners from "'disclosing or disseminating to the public, either in printed or electronic form (a) the Registry or (b) Registry information concerning [class members]'" and from "'identifying [them] as being included in the Registry.'"... The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Connecticut law implicated a "liberty interest" because of: (1) the law's stigmatization of respondent by "implying" that he is "currently dangerous," and (2) its imposition of "extensive and onerous" registration obligations on respondent.... From this liberty interest arose an obligation, in the Court of Appeals' view, to give respondent an opportunity to demonstrate that he was not "likely to be currently dangerous."...

In Paul v. Davis, (1976), we held that mere injury to reputation, even if defamatory, does not constitute the deprivation of a liberty interest. Petitioners urge us to reverse the Court of Appeals on the ground that, under Paul v. Davis, respondent has failed to establish that petitioners have deprived him of a liberty interest. We find it unnecessary to reach this question, however, because even assuming, arguendo, that respondent has been deprived of a liberty interest, due process does not entitle him to a hearing to establish a fact that is not material under the Connecticut statute.

In cases such as Wisconsin v. Constantineau (1971), and Goss v. Lopez, (1975), we held that due process required the government to accord the plaintiff a hearing to prove or disprove a particular fact or set of facts. But in each of these cases, the fact in question was concededly relevant to the inquiry at hand. Here, however, the fact that respondent seeks to prove--that he is not currently dangerous--is of no consequence under Connecticut's Megan's Law. As the DPS Website explains, the law's requirements turn on an offender's conviction alone--a fact that a convicted offender has already had a procedurally safeguarded opportunity to contest.... No other fact is relevant to the disclosure of registrants' information.... Indeed, the disclaimer on the Website explicitly states that respondent's alleged nondangerousness simply does not matter.... ("'[DPS] has made no determination that any individual included in the registry is currently dangerous'").

In short, even if respondent could prove that he is not likely to be currently dangerous, Connecticut has decided that the registry information of all sex offenders--currently dangerous or not--must be publicly disclosed. Unless respondent can show that that substantive rule of law is defective (by conflicting with a provision of the Constitution), any hearing on current dangerousness is a bootless exercise. It may be that respondent's claim is actually a substantive challenge to Connecticut's statute "recast in 'procedural due process' terms."... Nonetheless, respondent expressly disavows any reliance on the substantive component of the Fourteenth Amendment's protections, ... and maintains, as he did below, that his challenge is strictly a procedural one. But States are not barred by principles of " procedural due process" from drawing such classifications.... Such claims "must ultimately be analyzed" in terms of substantive, not procedural, due process.... Because the question is not properly before us, we express no opinion as to whether Connecticut's Megan's Law violates principles of substantive due process.

Plaintiffs who assert a right to a hearing under the Due Process Clause must show that the facts they seek to establish in that hearing are relevant under the statutory scheme. Respondent cannot make that showing here. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore



I join the Court's opinion and agree with the observation that today's holding does not foreclose a claim that Connecticut's dissemination of registry information is actionable on a substantive due process principle. To the extent that libel might be at least a component of such a claim, our reference to Connecticut's disclaimer, ... would not stand in the way of a substantive due process plaintiff. I write separately only to note that a substantive due process claim may not be the only one still open to a test by those in the respondents'situation.

Connecticut allows certain sex offenders the possibility of avoiding the registration and reporting obligations of the statute. A court may exempt a convict from registration altogether if his offense was unconsented sexual contact, ... or sexual intercourse with a minor aged between 13 and 16 while the offender was more than two years older than the minor, provided the offender was under age 19 at the time of the offense.... A court also has discretion to limit dissemination of an offender's registration information to law enforcement purposes if necessary to protect the identity of a victim who is related to the offender or, in the case of a sexual assault, who is the offender's spouse or cohabitor.... Whether the decision is to exempt an offender from registration or to restrict publication of registry information, it must rest on a finding that registration or public dissemination is not required for public safety.... The State thus recognizes that some offenders within the sweep of the publication requirement are not dangerous to others in any way justifying special publicity on the Internet, and the legislative decision to make courts responsible for granting exemptions belies the State's argument that courts are unequipped to separate offenders who warrant special publication from those who do not. The line drawn by the legislature between offenders who are sensibly considered eligible to seek discretionary relief from the courts and those who are not is, like all legislative choices affecting individual rights, open to challenge under the Equal Protection Clause.... The refusal to allow even the possibility of relief to, say, a 19-year-old who has consensual intercourse with a minor aged 16 is therefore a reviewable legislative determination. Today's case is no occasion to speak either to the possible merits of such a challenge or the standard of scrutiny that might be in order when considering it. I merely note that the Court's rejection of respondents' procedural due process claim does not immunize publication schemes like Connecticut's from an equal protection challenge.