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Oklahoma’s Supreme Court Rules Retroactive Sex Offender Registration Illegal

By a majority decision, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma has ruled that Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections (DOC) improperly applied an amendment to Oklahoma’s Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA) when it retroactively increased the time an individual must remain listed on the state’s sex offender registry. As a result, the DOC will be removing many names from the registry.

Background to the case

In 1998, James M. Starkey, Sr. entered a no-contest plea to a charge of sexual assault of a minor in Texas. The Texas court ordered, among other things, that Starkey be placed on community supervision for 10 years and that he register under the Texas Sex Offender Registration Program. Sometime later that year, Mr. Starkey moved to Oklahoma.

Following his move, Mr. Starkey registered with Oklahoma’s sex offender registry for a 10 year period, which was due to expire in 2008. In 2007, SORA was amended, creating a new three-level classification system and, as a result, Mr. Starkey was given a lifetime registration by the DOC. Mr. Starkey challenged this extension of his registration period in court. The trial court ruled that the amendments to the Act should not have been applied retroactively. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the legislature had intended the amendments to apply prospectively only and that retroactive application violated the ex post facto clause of the state constitution.

The ex post facto clause

Under this clause, which appears in both the state and U.S. Constitution, a law may not be made that makes an act illegal if it was legal at the time it was done. In addition, the punishment for a crime may not be increased after the crime was committed. The clause only applies to penal measures.

In this case, the court determined that, because SORA is punitive in nature and the ex post facto clause applies, the amendments should not have been retroactively applied.

What the decision means in practice

The DOC has issued a statement confirming that it will be individually reviewing all of the more than 7,000 registrants on the Oklahoma sex offender registry, and will remove the names of all those subject to this court decision. If you are a registered sex offender and your registration period would have expired but was retroactively increased as a result of the 2007 amendments, the DOC should automatically remove your name from the registry. An experienced Oklahoma City criminal law attorney can assist you with all issues concerning the sex offender registry and other criminal matters.

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