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Retrospective charges for sex offenders: civil vs. criminal

The era of American life when most high school students studied Latin is long gone. But Americans who know the contents of their constitutions - both federal and state - are aware that there are restrictions on "ex post facto" laws.

Ex post facto laws are laws passed after something has already happened, seeking to impose consequences for it. In plain English, an ex post facto law is a retrospective law.

As we noted in our October 5 post in 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that laws containing restrictions on Halloween activities by convicted sex offenders cannot be applied retroactively to those who were convicted before those laws were passed.

In this post, however, we will discuss a recent ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court regarding the application of a law restricting the presence of convicted offenders in certain public parks.

The law in question says convicted sex offenders must stay at least 500 feet away from public parks that have playground equipment or swimming pools. Most parks do have playground equipment, and so the law seems intended to have had wide application.

Three convicted sex offenders challenged the law. They contended that it was unconstitutional to apply it to them retroactively.

One of the three defendants challenging the new law had originally been convicted of a sex offense in 1997. The law restricting the proximity of sex offenders to public parks was not passed until 2002.

By a 4 to 3 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the constitutional prohibition against retrospective laws did not apply in this case. The court's majority reasoned that the prohibition against retrospective laws applied to civil laws but not to criminal laws.

Source: News-Leader, "Missouri Supreme Court overturns dismissal of charge against Springfield sex offender," Dec. 26, 2013

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