On August 20, 2020, the 10th Circuit Court in Denver overturned Millard v Rankin, the US District Court ruling that found Colorado’s sex offense registry scheme violated the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (The 10th Circuit ruling is Millard v Camper, No. 17-1333 (10th Cir 2020).) In response, Women Against Registry (WAR) and other Anti–Registry Movement (ARM) activists held a public demonstration against this 10th Circuit ruling on September 24th, 2020.
This year has been particularly challenging for planning public awareness events, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest across the country in association with protests against police brutality. The 10th Circuit waited a month to hold new hearings after this ruling, so we had to wait until the week of September 21st to hold a demonstration. We initially settled on the 23rd but discovered that a case that involved a black man assaulted by a police officer was being heard that day; anticipating there may be protesters from BLM, we moved the hearing to the 24th. On the 24th, two cases were to be held at 9 AM involving sentencing policies for people convicted of sex offenses. Thus, we felt protesting that day was both a statement against the Millard v Camper ruling and a show of solidarity with the two lives hanging in the balance that day.
The primary message we had for the event was a direct challenge to the 10th Circuit logic. We created a brochure specifically for the protest, which explained the “duck test,” the logical deduction that simply states if something looks, talks, and walks like a duck, then it is likely a duck. Registered citizens and their loved ones negatively impacted by the public registry know the registry looks, feels, and acts like punishment, and the more we educate the general public the more they recognizes the registry is punishment. The 10th Circuit, however, denied that the registry was punishment, much less cruel and unusual punishment. In essence, the 10th Circuit had deduced a duck was a cow.
About 25 people felt our message was important enough to attend the protest. Some traveled from Missouri, Nebraska, Washington state, Illinois, Kentucky, Utah, and Michigan to attend. Others were members of the local chapters of registry reformist groups. One family attended with their children, who carried child-sized protest signs.
Those of us who traveled from out-of-state arrived early to plan ahead for the protest. When we arrived, however, many nearby buildings were boarded up as if expecting a storm, including the state capitol building and the Denver Post. Unfortunately for us, a decision was to be announced on the shooting of Brionna Taylor in Louisville that day, and while we were out planning our event at the courthouse, the BLM marches had begun near our location. Some equipment brought for our demonstration went missing as the BLM protesters passed by the courthouse.
Still, we pushed ahead with our plans to protest as planned, arriving just before 8 AM. As fellow activists continued to arrive, we spread out over the four corners surrounding the courthouse, with our main table in front of the main entrance of the courthouse. As the day went on, the temperatures rose sharply from the upper 50s to 91 degrees in a matter of hours (breaking a record high temperature for the city). Still, we stood outside the courthouse and spoke to passersby and handed out fliers.
The only downside to the event was the absence of local media coverage. Each Denver media outlet received an announcement and invitation. Given the concerns over the recent BLM protests, it is understandable the media may not have felt safe covering a protest. However, the local media had covered a small gathering of protesters for the QAnon-based “#Save Our Children” protest just a few weeks before this event.
Still, despite the concerns over BLM protests and the COVID pandemic and the absence of media coverage, this event managed to draw at least two dozen anti–registry activists, and we were still able to spread our message of hope and change to others. One gentleman Derek spoke with had been falsely accused of a sex offense and narrowly avoided registration, but he knew of two others who were not so lucky. Others knew someone impacted by the registry and never knew there were organizations they could turn to for help and support. In that sense, this protest remains a successful event.
The live–streamed video for the entire event can be found at:
We are not finished demonstrating to educate that the registry and all of it’s associated violations of human rights are in fact punishment, even cruel and unusual punishment. There is a potential case before SCOTUS that will also allow SCOTUS the opportunity to recognize that the registry is punishment.
Maryland v. Rogers addresses whether sex offender registration is “punishment” within the meaning of the 6th and 14th Amendments. Jimmie Rogers pleaded guilty to a Maryland criminal law that provides that a person may not knowingly “take or cause another to be taken to any place for prostitution.” Because the victim’s age was not an element of the offense, the prosecution did not present evidence of her age. However, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services determined that the victim was a minor. After Rogers’ release from prison, the department classified him as a Tier II sex offender, which requires registration for 25 years for human-trafficking offenses against minors. In contrast, a Tier I sex offender must register for only 15 years and may petition for removal after 10 years. The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, determined that sex offense registration constitutes punishment for which the state must prove all elements beyond a reasonable doubt. The Maryland attorney general’s petition asks the justices to review that decision, arguing that it conflicts with two Supreme Court decisions and other lower-court and state-court decisions.
If the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) takes the case, our next public demonstration should be at their steps and the court needs to be packed with our families.
WAR National Directors in collaboration with OnceFallen’s Derek Logue and other independent anti–registry activists.
Women Against Registry
P.O. Box 463 – Arnold, MO 63010