CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Supreme Court has rejected arguments from two convicted sex offenders who challenged the state law that spells out how judges should determine whether they pose a risk of committing more crimes.
Jeffrey James Fuller, 40, and Chad Nathan Stewart, 33, both appealed last year after state judges in Casper ruled that they posed moderate risk of reoffending.
In both cases, the judges' orders meant that law enforcement had to notify neighbors within 750 feet of both men's residences that they had committed sex crimes in the past.
The Supreme Court ruling Thursday rejected their contention that the state sex offender registration law is unconstitutional.
According to court records, Fuller pleaded guilty in 1989 to first-degree sexual assault and other crimes while Stewart was convicted in Nevada in 1998 of statutory sexual seduction for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. Their challenges to the offender registration law were combined for purposes of the appeal.
Wyoming's Sex Offender Registration Act requires judges to consider whether an offender is likely to commit more crimes after they've served their criminal sentence. Those determined to be at high risk of committing more crimes are placed on the state's public offender registry, which provides photographs and criminal history of offenders on the Internet.
For offenders such as Fuller and Stewart who are determined to post a moderate risk, neighbors as well as youth and religious organizations must be notified when they move into a community.
Wyoming law states that the standard of proof that judges must consider in ranking offenders is whether the "preponderance of the evidence" indicates that they are likely to reoffend.
Fuller and Stewart argued that the current standard is unconstitutional. They said judges should be required to rely on "clear and convincing" evidence that offenders will reoffend.
"There are privacy and liberty issues at stake when a statutory regulation requires that an individual's criminal history be strewn and emphasized throughout the state, and the standard should be clear and convincing evidence," both Fuller and Stewart stated in their appeals briefs.
Eric Johnson, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming College of Law, said Thursday that the "clear and convincing" standard would be more difficult for prosecutors to prove than the "preponderance" standard.
Johnson said he worked on a case while he was at the Alaska attorney general's office that ultimately led to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found states may require all sex offenders to be on their public registries. The Wyoming Supreme Court cited that ruling in their dismissal of the claims by Fuller and Stewart.
Sex offenders generally argue that public registries are unconstitutional because they continue offenders' punishment after they've served their sentences, Johnson said. States, meanwhile, argue that registries are intended to prevent future harm to the public.
"The Wyoming Sex Offender Registration Act does not violate the due process clause of the federal constitution," stated the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling. "It is a legitimate regulatory device, with the primary goal of protecting the public."
A bill that would have placed all Wyoming sex offenders on the state's public registry failed to pass in the Wyoming Legislature earlier this year.
Liz Gagen, Wyoming chief deputy attorney general, said Thursday her office is glad the court upheld the constitutionality of the state's sex offender registration law.